Beyond The Scoreboard: Lack of Diversity in NBA Head Coaching


David Vanterpool (above) was considered by the Timberwolves, but the head coaching role ultimately went to Chris Finch. (Courtesy of Twitter)

While many were not shocked to learn that the Minnesota Timberwolves had chosen to fire head coach Ryan Saunders, the franchise’s decision to subsequently hire Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch leaves something to be desired with NBA players looking for diversity.

Over the weekend, Minnesota lost their fourth straight game this season when the New York Knicks defeated them 103-99 on Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden. The Timberwolves erased a 21-point deficit in the second half to eventually lead 96-95 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Despite star center Karl Anthony-Towns’ Herculean efforts in the fourth quarter, on his way to finishing with 27 points and 15 rebounds, Minnesota could not complete the comeback bid.

It was Minnesota’s eighth loss in their last nine games, which currently leaves them with the league’s worst record at 7-24. So when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Timberwolves relieved Saunders of his head coaching duties after Sunday’s game, nobody was truthfully taken by surprise. One could strongly argue the proverbial writing was already on the wall when you consider Saunders compiled a 43-94 career record over three years under the helm in Minnesota.

In Minnesota’s case, the expectation was that associate head coach David Vanterpool would take over following Saunders’ dismissal. Vanterpool played professionally around the world for 12 years before starting his coaching career with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013-14. Following six seasons as an assistant coach for the Blazers, he joined Minnesota’s coaching staff in 2019. Vanterpool’s respected reputation even earned him head coaching interviews this past offseason with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans.

Little did we know, Minnesota was already setting the table to welcome in the team’s next head coach. Shortly after his initial report, Wojnarowski tweeted out that the Timberwolves had already begun the process of hiring Finch as Saunders’ replacement before it was made official on Monday.

Finch and Timberwolves president of basketball operations, Gersson Rosas, have a previous relationship which goes back to when Rosas was a member of former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s staff while Finch was an assistant coach in Houston from 2011-16. Rosas, who is Colombian, is one of the few minorities to hold a front office role. In Finch’s introductory press conference on Monday, Rosas touched on the importance of having diversity in the workplace.

“Anybody who knows me knows how important diversity is to me,” Rosas said. “Unfortunately, when you’re in the middle of a season, you’re really at the mercy of teams in terms of who can become available.”

Rosas’ decision to forego giving Vanterpool, who is Black, the chance at being interim head coach in favor of hiring Finch, who is white, to a multi-year deal without putting other qualified candidates through the interview process prompted negative reaction from NBA players who believe Vanterpool’s track record did not warrant being passed over for someone considered an “outsider.”

For perspective, no assistant coach has moved up to a head coaching job with a new team during the season since the Memphis Grizzlies hired Lionel Hollins from the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2009.

Two of Vanterpool’s former players in Portland, guards Damian Lilliard and CJ McCollum, voiced their displeasure through tweets criticizing Minnesota for passing up on their former coach. Former NBA player and now analyst Kendrick Perkins spoke eloquently Monday on ESPN’s The Jump about Black coaches not being offered head coaching jobs because the league lacks representation when it comes to having more minorities in front office positions, an opinion LeBron James publicly agreed with on social media.

Just to be clear, this is not an argument against Finch getting the head coaching gig with Minnesota. With 24 years of coaching experience in the NBA and G-League under his belt, no one could make a sensible argument that Finch doesn’t genuinely deserve this newly-given opportunity. It just feels like the decision to hire Finch was clearly premeditated by Rosas and the Timberwolves front office. Given that Towns, the team’s franchise cornerstone player, found out about the initial news on Sunday through the media while eating pizza with his dad, only further fuels my suspicions this was Minnesota’s plan all along, no matter what.

When asked about Vanterpool, Towns said, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing work David Vanterpool has put in, and as a man who looks like me, I can’t wait to see him get a job where he can flourish and be a head coach and run a team.” Towns went on to say the team is “so honored and blessed” to have Vanterpool on the coaching staff.

Currently, there are only seven Black NBA head coaches in a 30-team league where almost 75% of the players are African American. This is certainly not the first time a qualified minority candidate has been passed up for a head coaching position in sports, and unfortunately, Vanterpool will not be the last moving forward. But when your peers advocate fervently on your behalf like the players have done for Vanterpool, it should speak volumes on how much work NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league still have on their plates to facilitate more diversity in higher positions of power.