July 30, 2007
I could not be more thrilled about this trade, one of the biggest in the NBA over the last decade, and one which completely blindsided me (in terms of timing, at least). As frequent readers know, that’s coming from the perspective of a Timberwolves fan, a Celtics fan and a huge Kevin Garnett fan. I’m ecstatic for the guy, who finally has a legitimate cast of characters around him to succeed. I’m thrilled for the Celtics and their proud, loyal fans. And I’m happy for the rudderless Minnesota franchise and fans who finally have a plan and a future to be excited about.
I’ve been glued to my laptop all afternoon, itching to write this piece. First it was Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and a No. 1 pick to Minnesota to acquire Garnett. Then it was Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and two first-round picks to the Timberwolves for Garnett. After that, scuttlebutt had the Celtics sending Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and two first-round picks to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. According to an anonymous Celtics official, it’s now a done deal, could be announced this evening, and looks like this: Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and two future first-round picks to the Timberwolves for Garnett.
I consider myself to be a bigger Kevin Garnett fan than a Timberwolves fan. He has done everything within his power to earn my loyalty over the years, something that cannot be said of Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale. I’ve always believed that KG is a consummate professional who plays a brand of basketball that makes everyone around him better and should lead to winning. Sadly, over the last few years the latter has not been the case and Garnett has fallen out of public favor. Though he has always been considered a stellar player, critics from all corners have begun to question his ability to win.
Perhaps they have been fair given the records Minnesota has posted during lean years and the crushing playoff defeats in winning seasons. The problem is, this warrior has never had a supporting cast befitting of his considerable talent, skills and efforts. It would have been one of the great tragedies in NBA history if his career had quietly wound down in Minnesota, his fate forever tied to the incompetence of Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders. Forever a loser. At the very least, Garnett deserved a chance to prove that he could be a winner somewhere. He now has that chance. If he fails, then let the critics speak. But Kevin Garnett deserved a shot.
“Garnett is a throwback superstar, a Bill Russell for the modern age. When some people conjure up Russell they visualize the consummate winner, a man who led his teams to 11 NBA championships. But I link the two men by personality. By all reports, Russell shares Garnett’s intelligence, grace, and intensity. And, in his defense, Garnett has never had a Cousy or a Havlicek.
Unfortunately, it could be that the modern age has no use for Bill Russell. One of Garnett’s greatest strengths—his loyalty—is laughably out of place in the superstar-focused NBA . . .
Garnett has never complained about the mediocre supporting casts he’s been given . . . Garnett has embraced the state of Minnesota like a taller, darker version of Prince. Even this year, with his team in a tailspin and his own game under scrutiny, Garnett did nothing to shift the blame.” – Paul Shirley
Feeling Minnesota: This is the first time that Kevin McHale has pulled off a trade since acquiring Sam Cassell that didn’t immediately elicit a groan for even casual fans. I still consider him to be the worst general manager in basketball, but McHale deserves credit for getting this much value in return for Garnett. It’s been time to acknowledge the fact that Minnesota was not going to win a title with KG in his prime for over two years, and this summer management finally grasped that concept. Garnett could have opted out of his contract after this season, which would undoubtedly have been another disheartening campaign for the 31-year-old star, and Minnesota was in serious danger of getting nothing besides salary cap room in return. To be honest, I’m shocked that the Wolves will receive this kind of value at this stage in the game.
Al Jefferson was perhaps the most promising power forward in basketball after the All-Star break last season. During the stretch run he put up an exceptional line: 19.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 55.4% FGs and (most importantly for the foul-prone youngster) just 3.0 fouls per game. He finally came into his own in his third year after being the 15th overall pick out of Prentiss High School in Mississippi. Coming out of high school, he was a 2004 McDonald’s All American and averaged an incredible 42 points, 16 rebounds and 9 blocks during his senior season. Make no mistake about it, Jefferson will be an All-Star in this league more than once in the next decade. His defense could use a little work, but he’s learned to clean the glass and possesses exceptional polish on the offensive end for a player his size and age. His success a year ago is no accident: Al is finally committed to doing what it takes to succeed at this level. He’s been putting in the hours at the gym and showed up last season 30 pounds lighter than the previous year.
The loss of KG is going to leave a massive hole in the interior scoring, rebounding and interior defense categories that no player in the NBA could fill, but for a rebuilding franchise Jefferson is as good a candidate as any. And he’ll have help from Craig Smith, a diamond in the rough selected in the second round last season. Speaking of rebuilding, it says here that Baby Al will be a better power forward than KG in five years. That’s what the Wolves and their fans should be concerned about: the future. They actually have one now.