Damian Lillard Couldn’t Believe The Wolves Passed Over David Vanterpool

The Minnesota Timberwolves made a coaching change on Sunday night after losing to the Knicks, 103-99, firing Ryan Saunders after two-plus seasons with the organization. That decision didn’t come as a major surprise, given the Wolves struggles since he took over, but what came as a shock was that they already had a deal lined up with Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch, who goes way back with Wolves president Gersson Rosas, to be their new head coach.

It’s a rarity for a team to make an in-season hire from outside the organization, and even rare to hire a coach who is employed by another team. Typically, teams opt for an in-house promotion to interim head coach and give them at least a chance to show what they can do with the team. On this Wolves staff, the widely anticipated selection for that role would have been David Vanterpool, a longtime Blazers assistant from 2012-2019 who joined Ryan Saunders’ staff as associate head coach in 2019.

Vanterpool has been long spoken about as a potential candidate for head coach openings but has yet to be provided that opportunity, and given the Wolves had him in-house already, it made a ton of sense to provide him a chance. That the NBA has been criticized for a lack of Black head coaches hired — particularly first-time head coaches given chances — in a predominantly Black league only further raises questions about Vanterpool being passed over for Finch.

Among those asking the questions was Damian Lillard, who played most of his career under Vanterpool’s tutelage in Portland and took to Twitter after word broke of the Wolves going with Finch to point out why he feels they made a mistake.

Lillard’s teammates CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic co-signed Dame’s belief that Vanterpool should’ve been given a chance.

Others from around the league had similar questions.

It is, at best, poor optics by the Wolves, both in passing over a highly regarded and well qualified Black assistant on staff and in firing their coach and already having a replacement lined up from the outside in the season, and at worst is illustrative of the continued issues of hiring inequalities in the NBA. Lillard and others from Portland pointed those out starkly, while also making clear just how liked Vanterpool has been in the locker rooms he’s coached.