If next season’s Celtics team does not start Kevin Garnett at power forward, prepare for a long, dark stretch. Without KG patrolling the middle in green and white, feel free to reintroduce yourself to the lottery, long losing streaks and the empty promise of rebuilding.
If Kevin Garnett walks away from the Celtics following their first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, it’s going to mark the beginning of a long rebuilding era for the team. (AP)
While you miss the scowls, intensity and blocked shots after the whistle, remember that the decline of the Celtics is more complex than the team simply aging. The major problem is the Celtics actually ask Garnett to do more now than they did during the NBA finals run in 2010. Despite his age (37 on May 19) and contract (2 years, $24.3 million), Garnett still is a premier power forward and a critical piece for a team chasing a championship.
“Back in Minnesota, Kevin used to say, ‘I want to live beyond my contract,’ ” new Timberwolves president (and former coach) Flip Saunders told WEEI.com. “That meant whatever he was getting paid, whenever someone would see him in a game or in a practice, he wanted to live up to that contract and then play beyond that.”
Garnett has done exactly that in his six seasons in Boston. His playoff averages (35 minutes, 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, his highest playoff average since 2004) against the Knicks also demonstrated that quality basketball remains afloat in his veins. Surrounded by the right players, Garnett still can help Boston contend for a championship. After watching Garnett for 18 seasons, Kevin McHale — who drafted Garnett in Minnesota with the No. 5 pick in 1995 — still is amazed by his former student. Garnett was the first player in 20 years to go directly to the NBA from high school, and McHale recently reminisced about Garnett’s rookie training camp in Minnesota, when the 19-year-old was only a couple of months removed from his senior prom.
“I loved the kid the first day of practice,” McHale said. “He laid on the floor after his first training camp — laying on the ground with nothing left — and I said, ‘We’ve got to go again tonight.’ He went, ‘Huh?’ I said we did two-a-days, and he was like, ‘Oh my.’
“But that night he came and he laid it on the ground, played on the line, laying on the ground, playing on the line. At the end, he was laying on the ground, and I said to him, ‘Now we do two again tomorrow.’ He looked up at me and said, ‘Man, this is going to be a job.’ He hasn’t changed since then, he’s just got better.
“His ability to compete at a high level for such a long time, his love of the game, his competitive nature,” marveled McHale, “it really is fun to watch.”
Competing at a high level for an extended period of time in the National Basketball Association takes a rare talent. It is a skill that is difficult, but far from impossible. The highest standard of excellence has been set by the Spurs, a team with an aging superstar in soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. Far from the best of friends, Garnett and the 37-year-old Duncan share very similar basketball philosophies, a fact not lost on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“They can look in the mirror and realize they’re both the same in so many respects as far as how they run their lives in the NBA and how they’ve run their careers,” Popovich said during his last trip to Boston. “They’re both competitive as hell, they both understand the game, they both love being on the court, and neither one of them is really that excited about the hoopla that is all around it, but they’ve also endured by taking care of their bodies and what they do in the summertime to take care of their bodies.”