MINNEAPOLIS - There was a new man leading the Minnesota Timberwolves bench Tuesday night in Milwaukee, even though the result didn’t change.
In Chris Finch’s NBA head coaching debut, the Timberwolves lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 139-112 to drop to 7-25 on the season. Earlier in the day, star forward Karl-Anthony Towns spoke publicly for the first time since Ryan Saunders was fired after Sunday night’s loss to the New York Knicks. Saunders went 43-94 in two-plus seasons with the Wolves, and Gersson Rosas felt a change had to be made.
Towns was eating pizza with his father when he got the news, and said he was shocked.
"I’ve never seen a move like this. I’ve never had a situation like this where it’s in the middle of a season and he just coached against us. Now he’s our coach, never seen this happen before," Towns said, noting Finch was in Minneapolis as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors last Friday night. "I’m going to make it the best I possibly can for our team and this organization, do everything I can to help this transition for Coach Finch."
Towns said he couldn’t help but feel bad for Saunders. Ryan and his father, Flip, gave Towns his chance in the NBA, taking him No. 1 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. He reached out to Ryan Saunders after getting the news Sunday night.
The two became close friends in Minnesota, getting even closer over the last year sharing a bond that they’ve both lost parents.
"We may have shared a tragedy together, but the one thing that I always can say about Ryan is he always put his all not only into the game of basketball as a coach, but as a man and trying to be a leader for us and lead us to be better men and even more righteous men," Towns said. "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. I’m honored and blessed to call him a friend the rest of my life."
Towns also said while he would’ve liked assistant coach David Vanterpool, a minority assistant coach with the Wolves, to get a more serious look at the position, he’ll give his full support for Finch moving forward. Towns also went out of his way, for the second time in three days, to say he wants to play in Minnesota his entire career.
There have already been whispers that he would leave the Wolves at some point to play for a championship contender. He said Tuesday he wants to build Minnesota into that type of franchise. The Wolves have made one playoff appearance since 2004, and it was with Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler in the franchise.
Finch, talking Monday with reporters for the first time since being named head coach, made it clear the Timberwolves will center around Towns moving forward. They didn’t get a win Tuesday night, but Towns had 26 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in 35 minutes.
"My stance on the situation, on what I said the other night, doesn't change at all. I've said it before that 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," Towns said. "I want to build a legacy in Minnesota. Help this organization build a culture, build a certain standard that if we want to be a championship team, you’ve got to start with trying to make the playoffs. The only thing I really care about is rings."