WALTHAM The return of Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics was anything but a given.
Paul Pierce recalls many times sitting around with Garnett last season and asking him the only question Celtics Nation cared about - Are you coming back or what?
"I really wasn't confident he was coming back," Pierce said. "Kevin, he said this is it for him. People didn't know this, but there are times we'd be in the locker room and be like, 'Kevin, is this your last year?' He was like, 'Yeah, this is it.' I would say, 'If you retire, I'm going to retire.' But then I started thinking. I was like, 'Kevin's been in the NBA since he was 18. He doesn't know anything else. What is he going to do? He has to come back.'"
And because of Garnett's decision to return, the Celtics are once again in the hunt to win an NBA title.
You can point towards Rajon Rondo's development into one of the NBA's top players and not just one of the elite point guards. Boston has the kind of bench depth that the C's haven't seen since the 2008 championship team.
But any chance of the Celtics winning another NBA title hinged on Garnett's return.
Two of the folks who played a major part in his return - head coach Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, the C's president of basketball operations - each had different takes on the probability of Garnett coming back for a sixth season with the Celtics.
"I had some doubt that Garnett would return," Ainge said. "Listen, it's a grind. And every year, players, it's amazing what a person like Kevin Garnett puts in to prepare himself for the year and what he does day-in and day-out just to go out on the court. I'm grateful that he chose to come back and play and I think a lot of it has to do with Paul and Rondo and Doc and what he believes that we can do this year."
Rivers remembers hearing Garnett talk about retirement often last season.
"It was a bunch of crap, I never believed it," Rivers said. "I really didn't. I told him that all the time. Everytime, in the middle of the season, I would say, 'next year,' (and he'd say), 'I won't be here next year,' that was Kevin. But I never believed it, I honestly didn't."
But if you listen to Garnett now, retirement was a serious consideration heading into free agency this summer.
And while he was able to sign with any team, Garnett made it clear that Boston was the only team he would consider playing for this season.
"I did give it some real thought," Garnett said. "My number one reason for coming back was Doc (Rivers). Doc being here is huge, and I enjoy playing for him. The guys, the city, the fans here are by far the best fans that I've been a part of. And all that stuck with me."
But as much as the fuzzy, feel-good stuff helped make Garnett's decision to come back for three seasons ("I don't know how Danny talked me into three years," Garnett said), his ability to still play at a high level was probably what swayed him the most to sign on for another run towards a title.
"This is in his blood," Pierce said. "This is what he's been born to do. For him to be playing at a high level to walk away from the game and with his competitive spirit, inside at the end I knew he wasn't going anywhere because me as a competitor, I understand other competitors. I just knew that he wasn't going to walk away."
Rivers echoed those sentiments.
"Even this summer when you heard whispers, I think there (were) a couple reports that he decided to retire, I just didn't believe it," Rivers said. "He just has too much passion. You don't usually see guys with the fire burning high with the level that he's played to just turn it off. It's unnatural, and it's definitely unnatural for Kevin."