Karl-Anthony Towns has never heard of anything like this. A coaching change? Yeah. At 25 years old, he’s already a veteran in that department. The Timberwolves change head coaches more often than most of us switch out light bulbs.
But not in this manner.
“I’ve never had a situation like this where it’s in the middle of the season and he’d just coached against us … and now he’s our coach,” Towns said. “I’ve never seen this happen before as a fan, let alone in my career as a player. It’s just different.”
Towns said he was sitting in New York with his father, Karl Sr., enjoying some Little Joe’s pizza when he received the news.
Ryan Saunders had been relieved of his duties. Chris Finch was set to become Minnesota’s next bench boss.
“I think for all of us it was shock,” the Timberwolves all-star center said. “I think the way it came out and everything, it was a shocking thing. It’s just shocking.”
But at the same time, not. This is what Minnesota has done often during Towns’ career. In his sixth season, Towns is already on his fourth head coach in Finch. This is not his first rodeo.
“One word I’ll definitely say I’ve been good at having to do is adjust,” Towns said. “I just keep adapting, trying to change my game to the betterment of my teammates. I try to change my approach to mesh and work with everyone’s different approach to life and the game and ego and everything. I’ve changed my approach every year. I’ve changed my game every year to suit the team the best. … I always asked the coaches, ‘Tell me what I have to sacrifice for us to have the best chance of winning and I’ll do it.’ Whatever the case may be, if it’s from a personality standpoint, if it’s from a basketball standpoint, if it’s from whatever. Just let me know what I’ve got to do for this organization and I’ll make sure it gets done. You just adapt and you keep sacrificing and you keep finding different ways to keep helping the team.”
This transition could be complicated by Towns’ feelings for his outgoing coach. Towns said he’ll call Saunders a friend “for the rest of my life.” The Saunders family will always have a special place in his heart. Towns was there when Ryan’s father, Flip, died in 2015, and Saunders was there when Towns’ mother, Jackie, passed away in April. They’ve endured so much together, along with establishing their current coach-player relationship.
“I thank him for also, especially in this year, helping me grow as a man more than ever and being with me every single step of the way,” Towns said. “We may have shared a tragedy that was very close to both of us, but the one thing I can always say about Ryan, he always put his all not only into this game of basketball as a coach, but as a man in trying to be a leader for us and lead us to be better men and to be even more righteous men, and he challenged me as a man. He challenged me in my faith. He challenged me as a player. He’s a tremendous leader, and he’s a tremendous friend.”
Still, Towns recognizes the NBA “is just a business.” He is accepting of Finch and happy for his new coach’s opportunity, and is pleased his teammates appear to be, as well.
“Obviously we still have a long season to go,” Towns said. “The organization made a move they feel was the best for this organization, and we got to do our best as players to support them and we’re gonna for sure support Coach Finch and everything he stands for, and try to be the best players we can be for him.”
After the loss to the Knicks on Sunday, before Towns said he knew of Saunders’ firing, the center spoke of his steadfast commitment to the Timberwolves. He talked of building a legacy and culture in Minnesota that could sustain for years to come.
“My stance on the situation, on what I said the other night, doesn’t change at all,” Towns said. “I think one of my biggest weaknesses for me is loyalty. I’m a very loyal guy, to a fault. I’ve said it before, I would love to finish my career here in Minnesota.
“I want to build something great here. I want to build a legacy in Minnesota. Just every day I’m trying to help our coaching staff, help this organization, this culture and build a certain standard that if we want to be a championship team, you gotta start with trying to make the playoffs. We have to have a certain championship standard in this organization on an offensive and defensive side and from an effort standpoint. Just trying to build that culture every single day, through shootarounds, practices, whatever the case may be. But like I said, legacies ain’t built squarely off points and legacies and stats. That’s not where it’s built at. It’s built through rings, it’s built through wins. It’s built through playoff appearances. I want my legacy to be known for that.”