AWAW Roundtable: So long, KG
After 21 years, Kevin Garnett’s career has come to a close. When you first heard the news on Friday afternoon, what was your primary feeling?
Steve: It’s always a little hard to wrap your mind around something inevitable that you never really thought about happening. I think there’s a playbook for how to go through a player — like Brandon Roy, say — who gets robbed of his career by injury: we feel sad for him, we feel sad about the fact that we’ll never see what could have been. But the end of a career like KG’s is closer to the feeling of a loved one passing at a ripe old age when they’ve had a helluva life. Sure, we might lament what could have been in Minnesota with Garnett, but you can’t argue he didn’t give basketball everything he had. So my primary feeling when I heard the news? I think it’s that scene from “Good Will Hunting” where Ben Affleck sees that Matt Damon has finally left Boston.
Tim: It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I’m feeling. Definitely can’t describe it with one word. I grew up in the Twin Cities idolizing the guy. He’s the only guy (with the exception of…erm..Trenton Hassell) whose jersey I’ve held onto. The past 12 years, I’ve moved his Pioneer Press MVP poster cutout everywhere I’ve moved, from Edina to Mankato to Uptown. As a kid, many of us have heroes that play a sport, an instrument, act in film or TV or something of the sort. KG was the guy in my line of childhood heroes. There’s definitely an element of sadness to know that he’s leaving the NBA; but there’s also a feeling of pride, knowing both that he did his most damage in a Wolves uniform, and also finished his career in Minnesota.
Zach: My first initial thought was that I felt bad for Karl-Anthony Towns. Then I felt bad about how the ownership angle for KG and this franchise has seemingly all but dissipated. But then I felt happy for him. I think you see it in the Instagram video he posted shortly after the news happened yesterday. KG loves the spotlight and adoration but that lifestyle is an insane grind that has consumed him for more than two decades. Think about how many fans of this team weren’t alive before he entered the league. Think about the number of times he’s had to go through the same damn routine day after day, hour after hour, and especially in the later years in which it meant he could only barely play instead of not play at all.
Now he gets to move onto the next phase of his life whatever that is. I think the best way to describe my answer is this. I felt everything. Every emotion. But mostly happiness for him to be able to finally look back and see what he accomplished. Maybe 20 people have had careers comparable or better than him in the history of the game. Think about how insane that accomplishment is. How many thousands of people have come through the NBA — as talented as anybody they know. And look at what KG did.
Bill: I was disappointed, and then I became appreciative. I wasn’t disappointed in him, just the entire situation; part of his return was mending fences and burying some of the uglier parts of he and Glen Taylor’s past. The owner took more than a few unnecessary shots at KG on his way out the door the first time around. Flip helped smooth all of that over, and paved the way for him to come back to Minnesota. And once Flip passed, it seemed like things became rocky again. That’s disappointing.
But all that aside, I appreciate everything he did, and everything he meant, and mostly how freaking hard the guy worked. He was constantly moving, talking, teaching – having him around the Wolves’ young players for a season must’ve been incredibly positive. Especially for KAT, and hopefully for the others as well.
In your mind, does it reflect poorly on Glen Taylor that the franchise’s relationship with the best player in its history is in less-than-stellar shape for the second time? Or is it simply the nature of the business?
Steve: If we know one thing about the Timberwolves, it’s that they’re difficult to read, and not because of some Spurs-esque secrecy, but just because I think things move in a lot of different directions simultaneously at the top of the food chain and Taylor is simply not all that nimble when it comes to being public facing. Because of this, I think it’s hard to say exactly what the tenor of the relationship is coming out of this moment. If you had asked me if I thought KG was thinking of coming back to Minnesota, I probably would have said no right up until he did. It seemed like there was enough bad blood then. So is this buckets more? I kind of doubt it. It doesn’t appear that the plan will go as we thought when it seemed like Flip and KG were going to be working on some kind of ownership stake together, but I wouldn’t rule out KG being involved eventually.
Tim: I’m not sure I feel comfortably in a place to allow myself to feel one way or the other one this. While it’s been said before, for better and for worse, we can never really know what happened behind closed doors between the superstar and the front office. That goes for either time. You can say that he had a rough exit in 2007, but he seemed to have a good rapport with Kevin McHale when the Celtics would play the Rockets through the years. You can say the same thing about KG and Glen, but he seemed keen on coming back to Minnesota, and nowhere else. Yes, Flip was the clear driving force behind this move, but Glen didn’t come off as a retractor in the whole series of events, either. And, on top of all that, I refuse to see anything KG + Wolves-related in a negative light right now, for completely immature reasons. Let me be, gahhd.
Zach: I think Glen Taylor unnecessarily soured a brilliant situation back in 2007 when he questioned KG’s commitment after the fact. It seemed like odd sniping at an ex for no reason when you both should be happy you’ve moved on. The Wolves got to reset with a haul of prospects at the time. KG got to go play for a title. It was a win-win and Glen took an unnecessary shot at him. I think since then, Garnett hasn’t necessarily helped that situation. I think he holds that resentment and that mentality is also what makes him so great, right? These guys use mental fuel in a way we can’t really comprehend. Since that time and especially after Flip brought KG back and brokered a truce, I’m not sure how easy KG has been to be around in that respect. It’s been nearly a decade and they maybe can’t work out that issue? Isn’t that bad for both sides?
Bill: There have been whispers that the relationship between the two was never *really* repaired, and I’m sure they’re both somewhat culpable. The trade that brought KG back to Minnesota was done in such a hurry that I doubt anything “official” was spelled out with regards to ownership, or a pathway to working in the front office in some capacity. So I doubt Glen reneged on a signed arrangement or anything, but I’m sure he could’ve extended an olive branch or two (especially when he brought in some new minority owners this summer), and didn’t. And Garnett, despite all his excellent qualities, seems like the kind to hold a grudge. I don’t know. I’m predisposed to being sharply critical of Taylor, so I’m going to hold him more responsible for the downturn in the relationship.
Do you wish Garnett would’ve gone on a Kobe-esque “farewell and appreciation” tour?
Steve: Nah. For all his trash talking and on-court antics, he always seemed a lot more like Tim Duncan in terms of his personal approach to the window dressing of the game than Kobe. He rarely talked to media over his last several years in the league and then only reluctantly. Still, we did miss out on him banging his head into every last stanchion in the league one last time.
Tim: Not at all. It wouldn’t have been him. For all the passion he brought onto the court, that loudmouth, flamboyant personality never seemed to be him off the court. Him taking a step away, after all the lights had come off of him was much more KG. The only thing that he could have done that would have been more KG would have been yelling retiring on court, mid-trash talk rant at Tim Duncan.
Zach: No, that’s not him. I’m honestly surprised we got that Instagram video. In fact, how weird is it that he’s on Instagram? And his account is good even with all those long body shot selfies he takes. I think it would be cool to know KG was going to be done with his career at the end of last season. It would’ve been great to have the crowd say goodbye to KG. But also, they’ll get that chance when the Wolves retire No. 21. KG retiring this way was perfectly him. Fighting Father Time and inevitability up until the last moment. It was entirely impulsive and accepting that those impulses of wanting to still play can’t always be satiated. If I told you we get to pick between a farewell tour for KG and three days before training camp him realizing he can’t do it anymore, I think we’d all consider only option two for him and never the former.
Bill: Okay, I’ll bite. Yeah, he probably doesn’t have the personality for it, but as overwrought as Kobe’s farewell tour was, it was kind of cool to see him appreciated and loved in every city, and for all the interesting stories and anecdotes that came out along the way. More importantly, it would’ve given basketball fans in Minnesota a chance to get out to Target Center to see him one last time, and a chance to show appreciation for everything he’s meant to us.
If you got to advise KG on what to do next – ownership, coaching, front office work, TV work – what you tell him to do?
Steve: Despite his famous reticence about it, I think he should consider coaching. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that his tune has changed a bit now that he’s actually leaving his playing days. His vehemence about not coaching was, at least to me, always couched in the idea that he absolutely wanted to play until he couldn’t anymore. He didn’t want to accept a de facto coaching position as a player. But he definitely would be a good coach.
Tim: I like Steve’s point, but while I’d certainly advise him to coach, I’m not sure he’d take to it (though I honestly hope I’m wrong). If that were the case, though, I’d definitely recommend ownership. I’m sure it’s not the same as if Flip were his partner, but Garnett would be a good owner. He’s smart, good with the media, and has seen organizations run well in the past (mainly in Boston, sadly). Plus, as a player, the idea of playing for owner Kevin Garnett would have its allure.
Zach: Is full-time best friend of mine a next step in his career? No? OK then yeah I love the idea of him coaching. Not full-time coach and I’m not even sure assistant coach. The development side of what he did the last year and a half is impressive. The work he put in and showed was great, and it showed the young guys a lot. I think he has a ton to offer up in that respect, but I don’t see it happening. If that’s the case, then TNT shouldn’t worry about language and they should just put KG on TV. As much as possible. Hell, let’s change it to Rizzoli & Isles & Ticket.
Bill: Watching him with the young guys on the bench this past year convinced me he should coach. He was incredibly good at communicating and firing guys up, and I think he’d love the competition of it, even if it isn’t the same as playing. On the other hand… what would I tell someone who spent 21 years traveling, working out, being in the middle of the grind? I’d tell him to spend a few years in Malibu, chilling. Taking it easy. Let himself get fat, if that’s even possible for him. He’s earned it.
Favorite Kevin Garnett memory in a Wolves uniform… go.
Steve: Because I’m going first, I think I get to say Game 7 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals against the Sacramento Kings. It was, in many ways, the peak of my Wolves fandom given that everything that happened since fell in its shadow at least up until I started covering the team and became less of a normal rah-rah fan. It was the quintessential Garnett game where he did just everything at the biggest moment for a team that desperately needed it. I think it also serves as a good reminder that while obviously a championship remains the goal for the Wolves and every team, there are plenty of amazing things that can happen on the road to get there, even if the team never arrives.
Tim: I’ll stay in 2004 for mine, but go with game 5 of the first round. I’m doing this because I was there for it, “it” being the night the Wolves made it out of the first round for the first time in franchise history. In those 5 first round games, KG put up 25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and one steal per game. He shot 45.4 percent from the field, all while being guarded by NBA defensive wizard Marcus Camby. In that clinching game, Garnett had 28 points, 7 boards, 8 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He was at the top of his game, and by the end of that one, he was celebrating on the top of the public address table. I’ll never forget him, or the crowd that night. The crowd was literally celebrating out to their parking garages. It was an unbelievable night.
Zach: Technically he wasn’t in uniform but it’s the John Thompson interview. The Wolves started to have it all. Garnett was the MVP. They went to the WCF. Sam Cassell’s large carry-on baggage of sorts hurt his hip and robbed them of a shot at the Finals. And they came back with greedy intentions and missed the playoffs the next year. Flip was replaced. In that year, the Wolves were losing too many games and he sits down with Coach Thompson and opens up. Everybody saw his heart in those 10 minutes. Everybody saw the passion that filled his veins.
And when he says, “I’m losing. I’m losing. I’m losing…” It still gets me.
Bill: The night he came back, while his (insanely long) intro video was playing, he was the only person in the arena who didn’t watch. He had his head down, muttering to himself. He really seemed to be taking in the moment. Target Center was as loud as I’ve ever heard it. That’s a really random memory, and I guess he was technically in warmups and not his jersey, but I’ll never forget how surreal it was to have him back here, and how heavy the moment was for him. Everything came full circle.