MINNEAPOLIS -- This midseason coaching change, Gersson Rosas admitted, was “unique.” As in, it doesn’t happen.
Fewer than 12 hour after Ryan Saunders was officially relieved of his duties, Chris Finch was announced as Minnesota’s new, full-time head coach.
“It’s something we felt like was very important for our organization in this day and time,” Rosas said.
Because, right now, Minnesota is stuck in the land the franchise knows all too well — Loserville. The Timberwolves are currently 7-24 — the worst record in the NBA. In terms of results, the first 22 months of the Rosas era have been an unmitigated disaster, and signs of it improving were few and far between. The defense is bad. The offense is, surprisingly, worse.
“We dig deep and we look at processes, approaches, execution, our character and our identity,” Rosas said. “The reality is it was really, really tough for the group over the last two weeks just not to maximize our opportunities and to evaluate our development of our young players and the development of our best players, and our ability to translate that to winning wasn’t happening.”
That’s why Saunders was fired. It’s why Rosas and Co. believed change needed to be more drastic than simply promoting associate head coach David Vanterpool to the front of the bench.
“We can get the real change we needed by making the decision we made here,” Rosas said. “We needed to be bold and direct with this opportunity.”
So the Wolves will move forward by looking into their past. Finch was the runner up in the 2019 coaching search to Saunders. He has a long, diverse coaching resume that started as the coach of the Sheffield Sharks in the British Basketball League in 1997 and has taken him to NBA stops ranging from Houston to Denver to New Orleans to, this season, Toronto.
He won a D-League championship as the head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he worked closely with D-League general manager Gersson Rosas.
Rosas knows Finch. He trusts Finch. And, with the heat turning up on the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, he’s turning to Finch.
The 51-year-old coach has developed a reputation as an offensive mastermind, of sorts. He’s coached talented bigs ranging from Nikola Jokic to Anthony Davis. Perhaps Finch is the one who can best maximize Karl-Anthony Towns’ talents. If someone can jumpstart the stagnant Wolves’ offense, maybe it will be Finch. Rosas sure hopes so.
“There’s great potential that lies in this team. … The opportunity to get to work and try to maximize our players and our opportunities, and build a foundation that will lead us to further success, is one that really piques my interest,” Finch said. “The job was appealing because it’s a great opportunity with a good, young roster. I think it’s the right time to take steps forwards and developing an identity.”
Finch said there are “a lot” of pieces that like to play the way “we” — presumably, he and Rosas — like to play: Fast and free.
That was also Saunders’ approach. But “fast” doesn’t really match the way the franchise’s cornerstones — Towns and D’Angelo Russell — like to play. But Finch has shown an ability to adapt at his various coaching stops to the talent on the roster.
“I think we can breathe some confidence back into the roster, and these guys can maybe find some joy,’” Finch said. “It’s a hard league to win in, and it’s very close. But we’re not a million miles away.”
That said, Rosas noted making this coaching move won’t immediately solve all that ails Minnesota. Change will take time.
“The reality of it is we’ve got to improve habits and approaches before we can start winning at the level that we need to win at, and that’s on both ends with more focus and more development,” Rosas said. “I can help that, and to be fair, that starts with me: How I can maximize this roster. How I can address the needs that we have. And how I can continue to build around our best players to have the best roster that we can have. So, it’s an organizational challenge that we’re trying to address, but at the end of the day we didn’t feel like we were developing the things that we needed to do, especially in late game situations that are important for these young guys and our top guys to develop moving forward.”
Finch takes this job in a less-than-ideal situation. He was officially hired Monday, and Minnesota plays at Milwaukee on Tuesday, then at Chicago on Wednesday. These are the moments where Finch’s past experiences may already pay dividends.
“Those challenges have really sharpened my resolve and my ability to be prepared, and I’m taking that as a big challenge right now,” Finch said. “As we go forward, we’ll figure out, slowly, the tweaks we need to make.”
Such as finding different ways to get Towns involved in the offense, and assuring he’s the centerpiece of everything Minnesota does.
Towns has missed much of this season, first because of a dislocated wrist, and then he contracted COVID-19. He’s one of many important pieces who have missed multiple games.
Challenges are something Minnesota needs to do a better job of weathering. Yes, the last couple of seasons have been tough for a number of reasons — from the pandemic to injuries. But the Wolves didn’t overcome anything with any level of success. Good teams do.
“We have to make an adjustment now to find a way to have success, even through those difficulties and those challenges,” Rosas said. “Bringing Chris in now, I think his experience, his perspective will allow us to handle those situations in a more successful fashion.”