Gersson Rosas: Timberwolves considered David Vanterpool, other minority candidates

Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas
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The Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Saunders and practically simultaneously hired Raptors assistant Chris Finch.

Left in the cold? Minnesota associate head coach David Vanterpool, who would’ve been the natural fit to be elevated to interim head coach.

It has not been lost on people that Finch is white and Vanterpool is Black.

Timberwolves president Gerson Rosas:

Anybody that knows me knows how important diversity is to me. And it’s a big part of who I am and what I’m about. Our staff and the diversity we have speaks for itself.

There were other candidates, minority candidates, that we considered at this time. 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 and who’s not available. So, that was a challenge for us as we went through the process. But in terms of not only David Vanterpool, but Pablo Prigioni and other other assistants who are on our staff, we looked at those as internal options, as well.

Being in a pandemic, being in the situation, it really changes things. Because of the platform that we’re at, a lot of what this process and this search was about was going back to our original search when we hired Ryan. And Chris was a finalist there.

We run very thorough and diligent processes here. If you talk to any of our staff, especially any of our coaches, our front coaches, we invest a lot in them. And I want those guys to be successful. And I don’t think at any time is anybody going to think I’m going to pass on a candidate that I think can help us at the highest level.

But at the end of the day, where we’re at, we have to be realistic with ourselves. We’ve got the worst record in the NBA, and we’re struggling on both sides of the ball.

With Chris, we have a guy here who we share vision, share philosophy and feel very confident about his ability to impact this team. And unfortunately, over our struggles here over the last year and a half, the ability to change that narrative was going to be hard from an internal perspective.

One of the biggest things that stand out with Chris is his diverse experience. The things that he’s done coaching all around the world at different levels, those experiences, I think are very relevant to our current game. We play a very international game in the NBA, and the experience that Chris has, the perspective that he has, the time that he has been a head coach outside of the NBA and an assistant in the NBA as well, I think those perspectives, those expertise are really important for our organization on both sides of the floor.

I don’t know whether Finch will be a good NBA head coach. I don’t know whether Vanterpool will be a good NBA head coach. Elevating assistants always carries risk. Ultimately, the Timberwolves will be judged on whether they made the right hire.

But there are legitimate questions about their process and whether they gave themselves the best chance to pick the coach most likely to succeed.

Every coaching search is unique. This one came with the rare complication of finding a new coach during the season. Minnesota couldn’t just interview far and wide.

So why did the Timberwolves hire a new coach now? Beyond a limited head-coaching candidate pool during the season, Finch can’t even build the staff he wants. Minnesota is in last place. How much will be gained by hiring now? The alternative, giving Vanterpool an opportunity as an interim then launching a full coaching search in the offseason, certainly held merit.

Perhaps, the Timberwolves properly considered all the drawbacks and deemed Finch worth the trouble. They just went through a coaching search a couple years ago (one far more problematic with the well-connected favorite of owner Glen Taylor getting the job). So, they did have some information on candidates without having to do more interviews.

Some have used Vanterpool not getting an interview now to prove he wasn’t considered. But Vanterpool is showing his ability to the Timberwolves every day. They didn’t need to sit down for another formal interview to evaluate and consider him.

Only Rosas knows how strongly he considered Vanterpool or anyone else.

I’m convinced Rosas believes “I don’t think at any time is anybody going to think I’m going to pass on a candidate that I think can help us at the highest level.” I’m also convinced nearly every, if not every, NBA executive believes that. The most common issue isn’t explicit discrimination. It’s subconscious bias in hiring – something exacerbated by a narrow search.

Rosas and Finch worked together with the Rockets’ minor-league affiliate, Rosas as general manager and Finch as coach. They’re comfortable together.

But when people place outsized emphasis on hiring someone they’re comfortable with, that tends to favor the type of candidates who are already entrenched. It’s antithetical to diversity.

Maybe Rosas didn’t lean too hard on his comfort with Finch. Finch has a distinctive background. He was a head coach in Europe and the D-League then an assistant for the Rockets, Nuggets and Pelicans. His views on basketball, particularly offensive strategy, don’t necessarily match the orthodoxy. It’d be wrong to be wrong to reduce him to “white man” – just as it’d be wrong to reduce Vanterpool to “Black.”

Diversity shouldn’t be about just checking boxes of race. Diversity should emphasize different experiences and perspectives. Race affects someone’s experience and perspective. But it is merely one aspect of who someone is, and obviously people within the same race can be remarkably different.

Many NBA teams want to copy Toronto’s success with Nick Nurse. Like Finch, Nurse coached in the British Basketball League and D-League. But it’s not as if everyone who coaches in those lower-level leagues is therefore prepared for the NBA. Nurse is flourishing because he’s a good coach. Yes, his experience in England and the D-League helped him grow. But coaches can also develop with CSKA Moscow and the Portland Trail Blazers (where Vanterpool worked before coming to Minnesota).

It’s easy to see how a team seeking its Nurse could focus on the wrong factors of what makes Nurse special. A team could even, perhaps subconsciously, have an easier time visualizing a white coach as the next Nurse. The only way to avoid that bias is recognizing the potential for it to exist, assessing it then proceeding accordingly.

Again, maybe the Timberwolves did that. We know only whom they hired, not all the intricate details of their hiring process.

Racism can be practically impossible to prove in instances like this. It’s possible the Timberwolves properly considered a wide range of candidates then just concluded Finch was the right choice. There’d be nothing wrong with that.

But in aggregate, the demographics of NBA coaches indicate a problem. Black coaches don’t get the same opportunities as white coaches.

We needn’t condemn Minnesota based on incomplete information to understand the larger trend.

Likewise, we needn’t absolve the Timberwolves based on incomplete information. The scrutiny on their hiring process is warranted even as, frustratingly, it’s impossible to levy a fair judgment on it.

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.

 

So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
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The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.

Lakers reportedly exploring Westbrook trade in talks with Jazz

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This feels like a “let’s leak this so our fan base thinks we’re trying” report rather than something that will come close to happening.

The Lakers have re-engaged the Jazz in Russell Westbrook trade talks, reports Chris Haynes at Bleacher Report.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz have had exploratory conversations centered around star guard Russell Westbrook, league sources tell Bleacher Report. However, the Lakers are said to be in communication with most teams to sift through the most reasonable and logical options available.

If the Lakers couldn’t pull off a trade like this over the summer, what has changed now?

The Lakers would be more than happy to move on from Westbrook and bring in more shooting and depth, but this is Danny Ainge they’re dealing with — the price would be both the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, likely unprotected. The Jazz would send back some combination of Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk — do any three of those players make the Lakers title contenders this season? Are the Lakers willing to give up those two picks to be a team that could make the second round of the playoffs?

Now, if the Raptors get in the trade game, would the combination of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. get the Lakers to surrender Westbrook and both picks? John Hollinger at The Athletic says that scenario is floating around, although everyone continues to wait to see if the Raptors are going to jump into the trade market with both feet.

The smart money is on the Lakers making a smaller move close to the trade deadline, likely involving Patrick Beverley and some second-round picks. Something similar in size to the Rui Hachimura trade, although the Lakers want — or at least are going to project they want — to hunt bigger game.

The Lakers continue surveying the market for premium shooting. Detroit Pistons sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanović remains a principal target, but there is league-wide skepticism on whether the Pistons are really willing to unload the nine-year veteran. It’s been reported that it would take at least an unprotected first-round pick to get the Pistons’ attention.

The belief within the Lakers’ organization is that they need to make at least one more move by the Feb. 9 trade deadline to give themselves a legitimate shot at competing for a championship, sources say.

Road wins over the Knicks and Pacers have the Lakers thinking they are a player away from contending? Los Angeles is unquestionably better with Davis back, and there is reason for some level of optimism in a flat Western Conference. But we’re talking “we can make the playoffs” optimism, there is still a chasm between these Lakers and contending — the gap between their second and third-best players (and the rest of the roster) is just too great.

Still, look for some kind of Lakers trade at the deadline. They are one of the more active teams out there. Just don’t expect it to be Westbrook.

Dončić leaves game with heel contusion, could miss games

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Luka Dončić was in control — he scored 21 points in the first quarter — and the Mavericks were cruising to a win.

Then Dončić went for a dunk, Brandon Ingram slid in for the block from behind, and Dončić hit the ground. Hard.

Dončić tried to stay in, but after one more play went back to the locker room and did not return due to what the team called a heel contusion. He could miss a game or two of the upcoming Mavericks’ five-game road trip — which starts with a nationally televised game Saturday in Golden State — according to Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes.

There likely will be more information from the team over the next 24 hours.

How much the Mavericks need Dončić was on display the rest of this game. The Pelicans stormed back and might have had a chance to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left when a blown call by the referees — Ingram blocked an inbounds pass but was ruled out of bounds in doing so, when he wasn’t — robbed them of that opportunity. Larry Nance Jr. took his shot at the officials for that.

With this win, the Mavericks moved into fourth place in the West (ahead of the Clippers, who fell to the Bucks Thursday).