Chris Finch

Northwest Notes: Barton, Deck, Jones, Finch

Nuggets swingman Will Barton will undergo an MRI after suffering a right hamstring injury, ESPN’s Royce Young writes. Barton felt a pop less than a minute into the team’s game against Golden State on Friday. The Nuggets are already depleted in the backcourt and can ill afford to lose another rotation player. Jamal Murray is out for the season after undergoing ACL surgery and Monte Morris is also sidelined with a hamstring issue. Barton, who holds a $14.67MM option on his contract for next season, is averaging 12.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.3 APG in 55 games this season.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Gabriel Deck has arrived in Oklahoma City and is ready to begin his NBA career once he passes protocols, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. The EuroLeague standout signed a four-year contract with the Thunder on April 12. Coach Mark Daigneault said he would “try to get him right in the mix as fast as possible.”
  • The Trail Blazers have hired former WNBA All-Star Asjha Jones, according to Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest.  Jones was an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics last season. She’ll be Portland’s director of basketball strategy and planning on Neil Olshey‘s basketball operations staff.
  • Chris Finch became the Timberwolves’ head coach a little over two months ago and The Athletic’s Britt Robson takes a deep dive into Finch’s rotations and strategies since he replace Ryan Saunders.

Rubio On Wolves’ Play: “I Don’t Feel Like This Is Building Something”

So far, a midseason coaching change has done nothing to help the Timberwolves turn things around. After starting the season with a league-worst 7-24 record, Minnesota replaced head coach Ryan Saunders with Chris Finch, but the club has lost Finch’s first four games by an average of 17 points per contest.

Besides being frustrated by the results on the court, veteran point guard Ricky Rubio is concerned about the Wolves’ process and the habits they’re developing, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

“We have to build good habits from day one, and I don’t think we are in the right way, to be honest,” Rubio said on Sunday. “I can be here and be positive like we’re trying to be and it’s OK. But we have the worst record in the league. We lost way too many games by 20-plus, and I don’t feel like this is building something. It’s hard. You always have to take positive things and of course, we want to get better, but at one point we got to start wanting to change something, and it’s not happening.”

After hosting the Hornets on Wednesday in their final game of the first half, the Wolves will be off for a week, and Rubio expressed hope that the All-Star break will benefit a team that is “not playing good.”

Rubio made it clear he wasn’t blaming Finch, who “has a lot on his plate” taking over a struggling team in the middle of the season. More practice time under the new coach might help, according to Rubio, who was frustrated by the fact that the Wolves couldn’t stop Devin Booker and the Suns from scoring on Sunday when Phoenix repeatedly ran the same set.

“When you’re young and you gotta play through the mistakes, I understand,” Rubio said, per Krawczynski. “But at one point, if you do the same mistake over and over again, it means you’re not learning. Learning through mistakes as a young team can happen, but then make different mistakes. I think we’re doing the same mistakes over and over.”

Rubio, who was reacquired by Minnesota in the fall to complement young guard D’Angelo Russell, hasn’t been a great on-court fit with D-Lo and is having one of the worst seasons of his 10-year NBA career, averaging a career-low 7.6 points per game on 37.8% shooting. While president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas may explore dealing Rubio at the trade deadline, the guard’s $17.8MM guaranteed salary for 2021/22 will make him a tricky piece to move.

Northwest Notes: Finch, Horford, Jerome, Lindsey

Taking over in midstream puts new Timberwolves coach Chris Finch in a difficult spot, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. Not only does he have to forge relationships with his players on the fly, Finch doesn’t have two of his best players available. Malik Beasley is serving a 12-game, league-imposed suspension and D’Angelo Russell is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. The fact that the front office passed over assistant David Vanterpool to hire Finch away from the Raptors adds to the awkwardness of the situation.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Thunder big man Al Horford is well aware that he could be dealt again to a contender, as he told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. Horford’s contract runs through the 2022/23 season, though the final year is only partially guaranteed. “I think anything is possible,” Horford said of getting moved again. “But I’m not going to dwell on [any trade talk] too much.” Oklahoma City is in no hurry to deal Horford and sees value in keeping the veteran around, Mannix adds.
  • The Thunder recalled guard Ty Jerome from the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue, according to a team press release. Oklahoma City needed more depth in the backcourt due to a groin injury that will keep Hamidou Diallo sidelined through the weekend, coach Mark Daigneault said, per The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto (Twitter link). Jerome, a 2019 first-rounder, made an immediate impact, contributing nine points and seven assists in 22 minutes during the team’s victory over Atlanta on Friday.
  • Former Jazz forward Elijah Millsap has expressed doubt about an NBA investigation concerning his allegation that executive Dennis Lindsey made a racially-charged comment to him during an end-of-season meeting in 2015, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press reports. Millsap said Friday that he has not yet heard from any investigators and wonders if it will be carried out fairly. “I don’t feel he is a racist, but I do know what he said to me,” Millsap said. The investigation will include the sharing of detailed notes taken in the April 2015 meeting that was attended by Millsap and three Jazz officials, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Lindsey has denied the allegation.

Wolves Notes: Finch, Defense, Towns, Vanterpool

The Timberwolves hired Chris Finch as their new head coach in the hopes of improving an offense that ranked 28th in the NBA under Ryan Saunders, and while the results on that front were promising in Finch’s debut on Tuesday, Minnesota also allowed a season-high 139 points in a blowout loss to Milwaukee, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

Acknowledging that he has a reputation as more of an offensive-minded coach, Finch stressed on Tuesday that the Wolves’ defense has to improve, noting that he’s hoping to streamline the system and implement “simple, highly executable coverages” for the team’s young roster.

“We don’t want them overthinking anything out there where there’s a lag time in their performance and reaction. But yeah, we’re all about the defense,” Finch said, according to Krawczynski. “I’m known for the offensive side of the ball, but the reality is I’m a defense-first guy because that creates the best offense. You still have to play defense in this league to win.”

Here’s more on the Wolves:

  • After being hired, Finch told Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns that he’s committed to running the team’s offense through him going forward, according to Chris Hine and Kent Youngblood of The Star Tribune. “He should be at the center of everything,” Finch said of Towns, per Krawczynski. That approach was evident on Tuesday, as Towns matched a season high with 19 shot attempts and established a new career-high with 11 assists.
  • While Towns expressed a hope that more “Black and minority coaches” – including Wolves assistant David Vanterpool – will get head coaching opportunities going forward, he pledged to support Finch and once again reiterated his commitment to the franchise, as Hine writes in a separate story for The Star Tribune. “I’m a very loyal guy, to a fault. I’ve said it before, I would love to finish my career here in Minnesota,” Towns told reporters. “I want to build something great here. I want to build a legacy in Minnesota.”
  • When Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas discussed the hiring of Finch, he explained that the veteran assistant was a finalist when the team conducted a brief search and ultimately decided to retain Ryan Saunders in 2019, which was one reason why he was comfortable bringing him in midseason without a full-fledged search this time around. “When we got that opportunity we were very aggressive with it because he’s a candidate that we have experience with through our last process and the guy we identified as a target for us,” Rosas said (link via Hine).
  • Ricky Rubio admitted he’ll miss Saunders and called the timing of Finch’s full-time hiring “a little weird,” but said he has been impressed by the new coach’s offensive mind so far (link via Hine). Malik Beasley, who played for Denver during the one season that Finch was a Nuggets assistant, had nothing but praise for him as well, calling Finch a “great guy” and predicting that the Wolves are “going to do some big things.”

Atlantic Notes: Harris, Simmons, Nurse, Finch, Durant

Sixers forward Tobias Harris advised Ben Simmons that the best way to quell trade rumors is to win a title, Harris told Sam Amick of The Athletic. Simmons was mentioned prominently as part of a potential package for James Harden before Harden was dealt to Brooklyn.

“I had conversations with Ben, too,” Harris said. “I was like, ‘The only way you become untradeable, pretty much, is if you win a championship.’ If you win a championship, nobody is breaking apart (that) team. You’ll add pieces to the team, but you’re not breaking up the core pieces. That was one of the things (he talked with Simmons about). I think it was kind of motivating (for him).”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors coach Nick Nurse does not anticipate that they’ll receive any compensation from the Timberwolves for assistant coach Chris Finch, Blake Murphy of The Athletic tweets. Finch was hired as Minnesota head coach on Monday, and Nurse was happy to see him get the opportunity, Eric Koreen of The Athletic tweets. “I’ve always seen it as my job to help people (achieve) their career ambitions,” Nurse said.
  • The Raptors head coach said he became aware of Minnesota’s interest in Finch over the weekend, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets“It did all happen really quick. Those things are never done until they’re done but we had a pretty good idea that (last night) would be Chris’ last game and then we would be on the move… It really did happen in like 36 hours.” Nurse will temporarily take more control of offensive duties while re-organizing his assistants’ responsibilities.
  • Kevin Durant‘s hamstring is showing improvement, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “I reiterate we’re all optimistic and positive that he’s improving at a rapid rate, and will be back soon,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. However, Durant will miss his fifth consecutive game on Tuesday, Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press tweets.

Timberwolves Notes: Towns, Saunders, Russell, Vanterpool

Amid the turmoil of a mid-season coaching change, the Timberwolves got some good news Sunday night as star center Karl-Anthony Towns indicated he foresees a long future with the organization, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Towns was asked about his intentions following a loss to the Knicks that dropped Minnesota’s record to a league-worst 7-24.

“If you want to build a legacy we got to win,” Towns said. “And I want to build my legacy here so I want to win with the Wolves, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to keep step-by-step, brick-by-brick, building something and a culture here that’s going to stand here for a long time.”

Towns, 25, still has three more years on the extension he signed in 2018, paying him $31.65MM, $33.83MM and $36MM through the 2023/24 season. He could opt to demand a trade, as other stars have done in losing situations, but Sunday’s comments should offer some hope to the Wolves that he’s committed to turning things around in Minnesota.

There’s more on the Timberwolves:

  • Ryan Saunders knew for weeks that his job was in jeopardy, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Players had been openly speculating about a coaching change, and the only question was whether management would keep him in place through the end of the season. Owner Glen Taylor had resisted the move because Towns was out of the lineup so much this season due to injuries and a battle with COVID-19. However, Minnesota was just 1-7 since Towns returned February 10, which was enough for Taylor to endorse firing Saunders.
  • Obvious tension built up between guard D’Angelo Russell and Saunders as losses mounted, Krawczynski adds in the same story. A long-time friend of Towns, Russell was brought in at last year’s trade deadline to provide a second star for the team to build around. However, because of injuries and the hiatus, Saunders only got to coach Towns and Russell together in five games.
  • Several NBA players questioned why Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool wasn’t chosen to replace Saunders, with the loudest support for the former Trail Blazers assistant coming from Portland stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, notes Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports. “How the hell do you not hire David Vanterpool,” Lillard tweeted, “and he’s right there on the bench… and has been in front office SUCCESSFULLY and on the front of a bench of a winning team SUCCESSFULLY (7 years) … and also has played a major role in the development of a dominant backcourt smdh!” According to Krawczynski, there has been speculation throughout the league that Chris Finch has been on top of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas‘ wish list since he joined the Wolves two years ago, and Rosas was willing to endure criticism over not considering a minority candidate such as Vanterpool.

Timberwolves Fire Ryan Saunders, Hire Chris Finch

9:35am: Minnesota has officially announced Finch as its new head coach.

“I would like to thank Glen Taylor and Gersson Rosas for this incredible opportunity to be the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Finch said. “I look forward to working hand and hand with Gersson to build and lead a team that Timberwolves fans will be proud of. We have excellent pieces in place and I can’t wait to get to work.”


5:43am: The Timberwolves have parted ways with head coach Ryan Saunders, the team announced in a press release late on Sunday night. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Saunders’ dismissal.

“We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future,” Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization’s short and long-term goals.”

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Wojnarowski, Minnesota already has a replacement lined up for Saunders, having reached a deal to hire Raptors assistant Chris Finch. The two sides are finalizing a multiyear contract that will make him the Wolves’ permanent head coach rather than an interim replacement.

Saunders, who took the reins on Minnesota’s sidelines following Tom Thibodeau‘s exit from the franchise in 2018/19, compiled a 43-94 (.314) record across parts of three seasons with the team. Those Wolves clubs were plagued by injuries, with franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns missing 54 of Saunders’ 137 games with the team, but underperformed even when healthy, finishing 14th in the West a year ago and ranking last in the conference so far this year.

Finch, meanwhile, has interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs in recent years, but will be getting an opportunity to run his own NBA team for the first time. He did have a stint as a G League head coach with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers from 2009-11 and won an NBAGL title with the club before becoming an assistant for the Rockets from 2011-16. Rosas was part of Houston’s front office during that time, giving him a familiarity with Finch.

Since leaving the Rockets, Finch has been an associate head coach for the Nuggets (2016-17), Pelicans (2017-20), and Raptors (2020-21). He has a reputation of improving teams’ offenses, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic observes.

According to Wojnarowski, Finch is expected to officially begin the job on Tuesday when the Wolves play the Bucks in Milwaukee, and is expected to keep the team’s coaching staff intact for the time being. That staff includes associate head coach David Vanterpool and assistants Bryan Gates and Pablo Prigioni, Woj notes.

Hiring another team’s assistant coach after making an in-season coaching change is fairly unusual for an NBA team, according to Wojnarowski, who says it hasn’t happened since Memphis hired Lionel Hollins away from Milwaukee in 2009. Murphy suggests (via Twitter) that Toronto is probably more likely to promote a coach from the Raptors 905 once the G League season ends than to bring in someone from outside the organization to replace Finch on Nick Nurse‘s staff.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Webster, Ujiri, Lowry

Speaking today to reporters, including Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press (Twitter link), Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said that veteran centers Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were “incredible for us.” However, Toronto’s long-term plans meant that the team was “limited in terms and years” when it came to making Ibaka and Gasol contract offers.

The Raptors’ limitations stem from the club’s desire to maintain as much cap flexibility as possible for the 2021 offseason. As such, it remains to be seen whether or not forward OG Anunoby will receive a contract extension before the December 21 deadline. A new contract for Anunoby, which would begin in 2021/22, would cut into Toronto’s cap room if the starting salary on that new deal exceeds his cap hold as a restricted free agent ($11.6MM).

I think there are talks to be had,” Ujiri said today, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “They know of the abilities that we want, so we’ll keep having those conversations. The most important thing is we’re excited about OG.”

Anunoby, who spoke to reporters on Friday, confirmed that his agent was engaged in discussions with the Raptors about a possible extension, suggesting he’d have a better idea closer to the December 21 deadline whether a new deal is a realistic possibility (Twitter link via Lewenberg).

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Ujiri suggested today that the club has either completed or is close to finalizing extensions for most of his front office staffers, including general manager Bobby Webster (Twitter links via Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun and Blake Murphy of The Athletic). Ujiri said there’s been too much going on to focus on his own extension yet, but that he’ll go into those talks with a “very positive mind and attitude” and hopes to get something done (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • Ujiri isn’t ready to say one way or the other whether the Raptors will be able to host fans at their Tampa arena this season, noting that he has a meeting this afternoon to discuss the possibility (Twitter link via Wolstat).
  • Asked about the possibility of Kyle Lowry retiring as a Raptor, Ujiri referred to the veteran point guard as a future Hall-of-Famer, suggesting the team would be happy to continue its union with Lowry beyond 2021. He’s been incredibly respectful to the organization and we will have that same respect to Kyle anytime, everyday,” Ujiri said (Twitter link via Lewenberg).
  • The Raptors announced a series of coaching hires and promotions in a Friday press release, including Chris Finch and Jama Mahlalela as assistants on Nick Nurse‘s staff and Patrick Mutombo as the head coach of the Raptors 905, Toronto’s G League affiliate.

Eastern Notes: Giannis, Hawks, Finch, Knicks

Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo briefly discussed his future with the team in a recent interview, explaining that his plans largely depend on whether Milwaukee is willing to make the necessary moves to contend.

“There are a lot of rumors. Everyone has opinions. But at the end of the day, I will do what is best for my family,” Antetokounmpo said in an interview with Swedish outlet Aftonbladet, as relayed by CBS Sports’ Jack Maloney. “I do not see why I could not be in Milwaukee for several years. As long as Milwaukee and I are on the same page when it comes to being one of the best teams in the league and winning championships, that’s fine. When it changes, it will not be good.

“It’s easy, I want to be a winner. I do not care about the money. My family is fine and I can take care of my children and grandchildren so that’s not the most important thing right now, it’s winning. As long as we can win and create a winning culture, it will be good.”

Antetokounmpo is eligible to sign a five-year, $228MM super-max extension with the Bucks this offseason, but the Most Valuable Player could also opt to bypass the extension and test free agency next offseason. He’s coming off a campaign which saw him average a career-high 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 30.4 minutes per game.

“I do not know what the plan is. It depends on what decisions they make,” Antetokounmpo continued. “If they make the right decision, I’ll be there for many years. If they do not, we’ll see. The NBA is business and we take it day by day. Hopefully we can succeed together.”

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference today:

  • The Hawks are expected to be “aggressive but smart” in free agency, a source tells Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. Atlanta will seemingly prioritize the draft and adding more than one player in free agency, rather than spend for a star such as Fred VanVleet (unrestricted free agent) or Brandon Ingram (restricted free agent). “We’re not just going to pay a guy so we can look good on paper,” the source said.
  • Chris Finch is finalizing a deal to join Nick Nurse‘s coaching staff with the Raptors as an assistant, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Finch has a storied history with Nurse, Wojnarowski notes, with the veteran coach most recently spending time in Denver and New Orleans.
  • The Knicks are considering drafting Oregon’s Payton Pritchard with the No. 27 pick, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News tweets. Pritchard averaged 20.5 points, 5.5 assists and 36.6 minutes per game last season, shooting 47% from the floor and 42% from deep. New York also has the No. 8 and No. 38 selections in the draft, which is set to be held on November 18.

Pacers Notes: Assistants, HC Finalists, Nurse, Bjorkgren

Though newly-hired Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren will have the opportunity to fill out his bench with assistants of his selection, the Pacers ownership and front office may provide some input, according to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). As Michael points out, Indiana became familiar with many coaches around the NBA during its expansive coaching search, so the team will have plenty of intel about possible candidates to share with Bjorkgren.

There’s more out of Indiana:

  • Sixers assistant Ime Udoka, Pelicans assistant Chris Finch, and Heat assistant Dan Craig were among the other finalists for the Pacers’ head coaching job, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
  • Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was ebullient in his praise for his former assistant coach Bjorkgren, releasing a statement via Toronto’s team Twitter. “Nate and I have known each other for 30 years,” Nurse said. “I’ll miss having him next to me on our bench, and I know the Raptors players and staff will miss working with him every day.”
  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic unpacks the career of Bjorkgren, praising the new Pacers head coach’s apparent flexibility with regard to making offensive and defensive schemes fit his personnel.