Timberwolves

Can Chris Finch Straddle Two Eras Of Timberwolves Basketball?

Photo Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Chris Finch accomplished what no other head coach in Minnesota Timberwolves history had been able to do outside of Flip Saunders: consecutive playoff berths. It was a small feat but something that had become unfamiliar for the organization since Kevin Garnett’s glory days in the early 2000s. With Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez set to take on full ownership of the team in 2024, the pressure is on Finch to bring the Timberwolves to new heights this season.

On Feb. 21, 2021, the Timberwolves hired Finch to become the 14th head coach in franchise history. His hiring sparked some controversy because less than 24 hours before the announcement, Ryan Saunders was coaching the team in Madison Square Garden. Finch wasn’t an internal or interim hire. Former GM Gersson Rosas hired him from the Toronto Raptors coaching staff to become Minnesota’s next head coach, something that’s rare following an in-season firing. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, among others, were in disbelief that the Wolves didn’t appoint associate head coach David Vanterpool as the interim head coach. It became a national talking point and led the National Basketball Coaching Association to apologize to Finch for the criticism of his hiring.

Regardless of how it transpired, it looked like Rosas handpicked Finch long before he fired Saunders. While Rosas made the decision to promote Saunders from interim head coach, it always seemed like he was a short-term answer for the organization. With the way Rosas spoke about Finch after his hiring, he made his belief clear.

Two years later, Finch is leading a team with three All-Stars, a former All-Star in Mike Conley, and a surrounding cast of rising stars. It’s safe to say expectations have risen since his arrival in the Twin Cities due to his efforts. Finch and the coaching staff earned their contract extensions in 2022. But after a disappointing first year of the Rudy Gobert era, many fans’ sentiment on the team has changed.

Although Lore and Rodriguez did not have ownership roles when Rosas hired Finch, they’re confident in his ability to lead the organization. Finch brought the Timberwolves back to the playoffs in his first full season, and we shouldn’t overlook that. While the pressure and expectations on Finch have grown, he has undeniable support from ownership.

Finch has the support of Tim Connelly as well. Connelly typically would do this in his press conferences. At the end of last season, he applauded Finch for doing a “fantastic job” handling the adversity the Timberwolves had to face.

Finch is a players coach who delivers results. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have spoken publicly about their admiration for Finch. D’Angelo Russell also did, and Finch benched him for Jordan McLaughlin in an elimination game. It’s hard to find players who don’t advocate for Finch.

But new owners often change head coaches after they take over. Consider Monty Williams and the Phoenix Suns. Two years ago, Williams led the Suns to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. A year later, the Dallas Mavericks eliminated them in the second round after an abysmal showing in Game 7. In February, the Suns introduced Matt Ishbia as their new majority owner. Three months later, Phoenix fired Williams after another second-round playoff exit.

Williams is considered to be one of the top coaches in the NBA. He won Coach of the Year in 2022, has experience with Coach K on the USA Basketball coaching staff, and a new six-year, $78.5 million opportunity to be the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Regardless, Ishbia had other plans. The Suns brought in former Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel to replace Williams, and they added Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal in the short time since Ishbia’s arrival.

This can also be seen with the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets and their recent ownership changes in 2021 and 2019, respectively. Early in the 2022 offseason, former Jazz head coach Quin Snyder resigned after a largely successful tenure with the organization, soon after, they traded Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, their All Star players. With the Nets, they fired Kenny Atkinson shortly after acquiring Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Atkinson was coming off a season where the Nets were the surprise of the NBA, making the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s 6 seed.

These are just the most recent circumstances, and ultimately, show the cutthroat nature of how head coaches have been treated following changes in ownership.

It’s also important to consider that Finch will be coaching the Edwards-Towns-Gobert Big 3. After the Gobert trade, Finch expressed his optimism for the Gobert addition, so it’s clear he approved the organization’s move beforehand. The three Timberwolves stars have been unable to spend much time on the court together, totaling just 31 games.

It’s fair to say Finch hasn’t had enough time to maximize their star power just yet. For years, many Timberwolves fans have wanted Towns to move to the power forward. Acquiring Gobert was meant to be the solution, but that hasn’t been the case. After all, can Finch even be to blame for their output in Year 1?

While Finch felt the trade solved a problem, even the best head coaches in the NBA would struggle in his position. Edwards has yet to develop a viable connection with Gobert, and Towns’ role on the offense with Gobert has largely been unclear. Gobert’s lackluster performance with France in the FIBA World Cup doesn’t leave much room for optimism either.

Ultimately, the Gobert trade was a significant investment that was meant to bring the team closer to a championship. It could either lead to a bright future for the Timberwolves, or the beginning of the end for the Finch era in Minnesota, even though he’s the second-winningest head coach in franchise history.

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Photo Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

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