|Kevin Garnett’s future determines Celtics’ ability to be competitive next few seasons||05.10.13 at 10:27 am ET|
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.
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.”
|Brazilian legend Leandro Barbosa gets his kicks with Celtics||11.28.12 at 9:37 am ET|
Leandrinho. The Brazilian Blur. LB.
Leandro Barbosa has many different nicknames, but to anyone who has ever met the man, only one word will do.
“There was nobody who didn’t like LB,” said Jack McCallum, the longtime Sports Illustrated journalist and author of “Seven Seconds or Less,” a phenomenal snapshot of the Suns team — and the league — during the 2005-06 season. ”LB was loved. He had a kind of innocence about him, and a real work ethic with the way he approached everything. He looked at himself as kind of an open book whereas a lot of guys who come into the NBA — guys without LB’s ability or talent — think they know everything, but LB was never like that.”
Barbosa, who celebrates his 30th birthday Wednesday, grew up in São Paulo, the world’s seventh largest city by population, and a hotbed for soccer.
“I’m from Brazil, so everybody knows about soccer,” said Barbosa, whose subtle accent still creeps up in conversation. ”I used to play when I was a little kid, but I decide to play a different sport.”
Barbosa, the youngest of five children, wanted to play basketball for a pretty simple reason. His brother played.
“My brother Arturo played professionally,” Barbosa said. ”I always was around him; whatever he was doing, I wanted to do the same thing. I decided to play basketball because of him. Arturo started teaching me how to play.”
Arturo, 20 years older than Barbosa, became a driving force in his little brother’s basketball career.
“Arturo was a pretty tough taskmaster,” McCallum said. ”I don’t think those of us in the States really understand much about how kids in other countries learn the game. We just know they learn the game differently. LB still has scars from Arturo.”
McCallum wasn’t talking figuratively. If Barbosa made a mistake in his ball-handling drills, there were consequences. Arturo would whack him with a stick.
“I had to be quick with the ball, quick with my hands, because if I wasn’t, he slapped with me the stick,” said Barbosa, who still bears the scars on both hands. ”At the time, as a kid, I was crying. I didn’t know why he was doing that. But if it wasn’t for all the work he put in, I don’t think I’d be here in the NBA. Those drills still stay with me.”