“They are always moving the goal posts.”
Those words are regularly uttered by aspiring and qualified Black coaches and general managers whose vast experience has never been enough to land their coveted NBA dream job. Those words came up again when the Minnesota Timberwolves opted out of the franchise to fill their first head coach on Sunday after Ryan Saunders was relieved of his duties following a 103-99 loss to the New York Knicks that cut the record. from the Wolves to a league. -worst 7-24.
Rather than promoting associate head coach David Vanterpool, who is black, the organization hired Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch, who is white. To be fair, Finch is qualified for the job, but it’s unusual for a franchise to rush to hire a new coach from another team mid-season.
“What are we supposed to do? Coach in college? What else are we supposed to do? What’s the blueprint?” Said a longtime black NBA assistant coach from The Undefeated. “Someone help us, because clearly what we know now is not helping us.”
The 47-year-old Vanterpool certainly has a resume worthy of a head coaching opportunity. Vanterpool, a former player whose career spanned 12 years with seasons in the NBA, the Continental Basketball Association, and abroad, was an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2012 to 2019. He played a vital role in helping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to become stars. (Both Lillard and McCollum spoke out on social media after Vanterpool was ignored Sunday.)
Vanterpool left Portland in 2019 by accepting a job as an associate head coach in rebuilding Minnesota. Last season, he also interviewed for head coach vacancies with the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.
With 41 games remaining in the Wolves season, the immediate expectation was that the team would promote Vanterpool on an interim basis to see if he was worthy of the full-time job. Cleveland Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff and Rockets head coach Stephen Silas, both black, were former interim head coaches. Giving Vanterpool the opportunity to be an interim head coach could have been a path to a full-time head coach job in Minnesota or elsewhere with a job well done. But Vanterpool was ignored by Finch, who is a longtime colleague of Wolves president Gersson Rosas. Vanterpool, who declined to comment on this story, accepted the opportunity to remain on staff.
There are currently seven black NBA head coaches among 30 teams in a league where about 75% of the players are African-American. The news that Vanterpool would not become the eighth shook the Black coaching fraternity.
“It’s typical of the black NBA coach experience,” a black NBA head coach told The Undefeated. “They use your skill set during tough times, but when it comes time to reward you with an opportunity, they always seem to find a reason not to, and then they expect you to remain a good soldier.”
Another black NBA head coach told The Undefeated: “Fire Ryan. Hire Finch the same day. Pass over David Vanterpool. Crazy. Shaking my head.”
Sources say Rosas had decided before Saunders’ firing that Vanterpool was not a good fit as a possible replacement. But Vanterpool has a strong relationship with several of the Wolves players, including stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. According to a source, Towns was not consulted during the hiring process.
Towns said during a press conference Tuesday that he was happy for Finch and that he would support him, but also took the time to recognize Vanterpool as an incredible coach.
“I want to take the time to acknowledge the incredible work these assistant coaches have done, especially David Vanterpool,” Towns said. “Men of color deserve the opportunity to have the opportunity to be a head coach in this league and I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible work he has done and what he has meant to this organization since he came here.
“I’m very excited to be able to be coached by Coach Finch and play for him, but I also want to recognize the men of color that we have on this coaching staff, especially one who will soon be a head coach in this league. and I’m going to be really excited for that moment for him. “
For now, Vanterpool will have to wait.
The Wolves will be led by Finch, who is a former Great Britain national team coach and has over 24 years of coaching experience in the NBA and G League. Prior to training in Toronto, Finch, 51, was an associate head coach with the Pelicans from 2017 to 2020, an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets during the 2016-17 season and an assistant coach with the Rockets from 2011 to 2016.
In Houston, Finch worked with Rosas as the head coach of the G League Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Finch led the Vipers to a 67-33 record in two seasons. In 2010, he won a title and the Dennis Johnson Trophy (G League Coach of the Year award).
By accepting the Minnesota job, Finch became the first assistant coach to leave a team during an NBA season to become head coach of another team since the Memphis Grizzlies hired Lionel Hollins from the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009 after of the dismissal of Marc Iavaroni.
While Rosas got the head coach he wanted, Now the importance of adding value to diversity is being questioned after snubbing Vanterpool. To its Credit, the Wolves have hired the likes of Sachin Gupta, who is Indian, as executive vice president of basketball operations, a black deputy general manager, Joe Branch, and a woman, Bri Bauer, as vice president of communications and engagement, during their tenure.
Shortly before becoming the first president of basketball operations for a Latino NBA team in 2019, Rosas spoke to The Undefeated about his dreams for Latinos in the league.
“The beauty of our league is its diversity,” Rosas said. “And not just in terms of background or culture, but of mindset, approaches. It is not done just one way. The different perspective you have in an organization is the value of having the team on the court and the team off the court. Building that together is something I’m passionate about. “
Rosas said during an introductory press conference for Finch on Monday that he was considering Vanterpool and Wolves’ assistant Pablo Prigioni, an Argentine-Italian, to replace Saunders. But he thought the best way was to look outside the organization.
“We carry out very thorough and diligent processes here,” Rosas said. “If you talk to any of our staff, especially any of our coaches, we invest a lot in them and I want those guys to be successful. I don’t think anyone at any time thinks that I am going to pass up a candidate who I think can help us at the highest level. The reality is that as we work through this process, our focus, our goal, our goal is where we are right now cannot continue. We cannot continue on the path we are on.
“Where is our record, where are we playing on both ends of the court. That is what led us to this decision. That is what led us to change. And, for me, if we are going to do something, there has to be a purpose behind it and we wanted to be bold and direct about this once the opportunity with Toronto was available. We were very aggressive because with Chris, we have a guy here with whom we share a vision, we share a philosophy and we feel very confident in his ability to impact this team. And unfortunately, with our struggles here for the last year and a half, the ability to change that narrative was going to be difficult from an internal perspective. “
Ultimately, Rosas hired Finch for a multi-year deal, and he did so, according to sources, without a diverse group of qualified coaching candidates going through the interview process. So even if Vanterpool wasn’t the guy, there were certainly plenty of other coaches worth interviewing. A veteran black NBA scout told The Undefeated he was surprised Rosas didn’t consider a diverse group of candidates.
Towns says he understands the reaction to a coach of color not being heavily considered for the Wolves’ head coach opening.
“For what my job is, there are a lot of amazing men of color who deserve the opportunity to lead a team and run an organization and have the opportunity to make their mark in this league not with a jersey, but with a suit on. And I mean that with sense, ”Towns said.
“But like I said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible work that David Vanterpool has done and as a man who looks like me, I can’t wait to see him get a job where he can thrive. and being a head coach and leading a team. We are very honored and blessed to have him here on this coaching staff and to continue to learn from him and absorb all the wisdom and experience he has as a professional and also as a coach. “
Sure, beating the worst record in the NBA would have been a gigantic undertaking for Vanterpool. But the long list of qualified African-American assistant coaches in the NBA would have celebrated and supported that opportunity for him. Instead, the fact that Vanterpool is being ignored and the lack of a diverse pool of coaching candidates being considered is just the latest example of goalposts being moved for black NBA coaches.
Said a longtime black NBA assistant about young black coaches who have hopes of becoming head coach:
“It is discouraging.”