For Chris Finch, Monday was the best day, and also the day he took on the greatest challenge, of his long basketball life.
Finch, who was an All-American player at Franklin & Marshall College from Wilson High School in Berks County, was named head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The move came hours after the Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders Sunday night. Finch had been an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.
“When I got the phone call yesterday, it was kind of shocking,’’ Finch said at a press conference in Minneapolis Monday. “But, exciting at the same time.’’
The T-Wolves are 7-24, the worst record in the NBA. They are 1-6 since Karl Anthony Towns, their best player, returned from a bout with COVID-19. Starting point guard D’Angelo Russell will be out for at least the next month with a knee injury and surgery.
The team’s first-round pick in this year’s draft was traded away as part of a deal that sent forward Andrew Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors, and there’s even talk of tanking to preserve a lottery-protected pick the Wolves received back from Golden State in that deal.
The team will likely have to move a veteran player - point guard Ricky Rubio is the best bet - in order to be under next year’s luxury tax threshold.
Further, a number of NBA players, including Damian Lillard, Jamal Crawford, and J.C. McCollum, criticized the hire on social media Monday, pointing out that the Wolves have a well-regarded, experienced African-American coach, assistant David Vanterpool, on their current staff.
And yet, …, as Finch’s college coach, Glenn Robinson, put it Monday, “There’s only 32 of these jobs. Everybody in the (basketball) world wants one of them.’’
Finch, 51, was part of arguably Robinson’s best team, which lost to Wisconsin-Platteville in the 1992 NCAA Division Three national championship game. He was a two-time All-American.
“I remember recruiting Chris,’’ Robinson said. “He was so good. I almost couldn’t believe we were getting him.’’
Finch played professionally in Europe, then was hired, as age 27, to coach the Sheffield Sharks in the British Basketball League.
“I wouldn’t have hired me then,’’ Finch said.
He coached Great Britain’s national team in the 2012 Olympics, and then then transitioned to the NBA D League, now called the G League, where he was coach of the year in 2010. Finch has been in the NBA for 10 years, as an assistant with Houston, Denver, New Orleans, and, this year, Toronto, where his boss, the highly-regarded Nick Nurse, is a former G League assistant to Finch.
“He’s certainly put in his time,’’ said Robinson, who texted congratulations to Finch Monday and, to his surprise, got a response within seconds.
“I know he’s been very close in the past, he’s extremely well-thought-of throughout the league. I feel he deserves this opportunity. I just hope he gets the time to figure things out.’’
The terms of Finch’s contract were not announced.
Making a coaching change in mid-season is unusual. Finch’s staff will be Saunders guys, also unusual. But Gersson Rosas, the T-Wolves’ second-year President of Basketball Operations, is known to be a Finch advocate.
“He is one of the most creative basketball minds in the NBA, has success maximizing players, and I am excited to see him bring our team to the next level,’’ Rosas said Monday.