After Karl-Anthony Towns had been limited by foul trouble to 21 minutes in the Timberwolves’ three-point loss to San Antonio on Friday at Target Center — tying his season-low for minutes in the process — interim coach Ryan Saunders said he and his center would talk about Towns’ frequent foul issues.
Towns needed to stay more vertical, Saunders suggested. Not bring his arms down. But in the locker room moments later — after fouling out for the sixth time this year — Towns wouldn’t comment on the officiating.
Towns leads the league with six disqualifications and led the league with 3.84 fouls per game heading into Sunday’s game against Phoenix at Target Center.
No matter what is — and whether it’s fair or not — reputations are difficult to change in the NBA. And, once you have the reputation for being foul-prone, it will take work to turn that ship around.
“It’s like anything,” Saunders said. “Changing perception on anything takes time. When something’s been a daily occurrence, or something that happens routinely, you have to change perception over time.”
When it comes to specifics, Saunders won’t comment on the officiating. But veteran teammate Taj Gibson suggested a good-faith attempt to develop a relationship with officials. And that means talking to them more, and perhaps complaining about calls less.
“It’s going to take some time,” Gibson said. “But you’ve got to have patience. You’ve got to constantly talk to [officials]. When you’re in the NBA for a number of years you’ve got to get used to [officials] names. You’ve got to get a familiarity with them, and stay poised. You have to be ready, stay ready, have a calm demeanor about yourself and keep playing hard.”
Towns has averaged 4.3 fouls per game in January, 4.5 in his past six.
To Gibson, it’s a process. Get to know the officials. Talk to them before the game, between plays.
“They’re going to make mistakes, but have respect for the game and have a good communication with them,” he said. “I’m the same way. Sometimes I lose it. But in between plays I always apologize, tell them I’m just a little overheated at the moment, but keep moving forward.”
A Detroit connection
Saunders was still a teenager when his dad, Flip, took over as head coach in Detroit. One of Flip’s assistants there was Igor Kokoskov, the native Serbian who is now the Suns’ head coach. Kokoskov’s first memory of the younger Sanders?
“A kid running around, rebounding the ball for Corliss Williamson,” Kokoskov joked.
But the ties run deep. Ryan Saunders has consulted with Kokoskov over the years; he especially respects Kokoskov’s talents coaching offense.
“Anyone who’s been around Igor knows, one, how much of a gentleman he is, and two, how brilliant he is as a basketball mind. Especially on the offensive end. We’re all thieves in the NBA as coaches, and I’ve definitely taken some things out of Igor’s playbook.”
Kokoskov heartily endorsed Ryan Saunders’ being made interim coach of the Wolves.
“Good things happen to good people,” he said. “Very well deserved. … I have a lot of respect for the Saunders family. Really, three special years working for Flip. One of the saddest things that has happened in my coaching career is losing a friend like coach Saunders.”
In a quirk of the schedule the Wolves will play Phoenix twice in three nights — they play at Phoenix on Tuesday. Then, after playing at Los Angeles on Thursday, the Wolves will play Utah in consecutive games — at Utah on Friday on the back end of a back-to-back, then Sunday at Target Center.
“I wouldn’t say I like it, but it’s part of the game,” Gibson said. “It’s part of the job. We have to be able to take on whatever comes your way.”