In the wake of the Minnesota Timberwolves' controversial head-coaching hire of Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch, the NBA Coaches Association issued a rebuke of the process in a statement on Wednesday.
"We would be remiss not to acknowledge a deeper concern and level of disappointment with the Minnesota head coach hiring process," NBCA president Rick Carlisle and executive director David Fogel said in a joint statement.
"The NBCA understands and respects each organization's right to hire and fire whomever and whenever it chooses. But it is also our responsibility to point out when an organization fails to conduct a thorough and transparent search of candidates from a wide range of diverse backgrounds."
The last-place Timberwolves fired third-year head coach Ryan Saunders on Sunday, the same day The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Finch's hire. Both coaches are white. Minnesota general manager Gersson Rosas, who is Colombian, drew heavy criticism for bypassing an interview process that could have included minority candidates, namely Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool, a highly regarded longtime assistant who is Black.
"I want to take the time to recognize the amazing work these assistant coaches have done, especially David Vanterpool," he said. "Men of color deserve to have a chance to get their opportunity to be a head coach in this league and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing work he's done and what he's meant to this organization."
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who were both coached by Vanterpool during his tenure as an assistant for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2012-19, were more direct in their criticism of the decision not to interview Vanterpool.
Make it make sense. Respectfully. https://t.co/4crtNzWV0W
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) February 22, 2021
Rosas addressed the controversy in a statement to The Undefeated:
“As a minority leader, I take pride in assembling a diverse front office, coaching and basketball operations staff. It’s one of the first priorities when I took on the role of president of basketball operations of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Rosas told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. “Many people don’t look beyond what they see on the surface, but in reality we have invested in and supported David Vanterpool, our minority staff and all basketball operations personnel in a multitude of ways so they can advance when ready. I know there are more hurdles for minorities. I had to leap over those personally, and it’s why I put internal programs in place to help all of our staff be prepared for the next step. I know David’s day will come, and we will continue to do what we can to develop him.”
The relationship between Rosas and Finch dates back to their time together with the Houston Rockets.
Only seven of the NBA's 30 head coaches are Black in a league in which three-quarters of players are Black. Ahead of the NBA's restart in Orlando this past summer, a players' coalition led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley called on the league to improve its hiring practices regarding Black front-office and coaching candidates. The NBCA agrees.
"During this past offseason, we saw many NBA head coaching vacancies where teams led searches that were both diverse and transparent," Carlisle and Fogel said in their joint statement. "This must be the standard. We must establish a level playing field and equal access to opportunity for all coaching candidates.
"The NBCA has been working closely with the league office on a wide range of initiatives that will improve future coaching searches. In partnership with the NBA, we look forward to sharing details in the weeks to come."
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