OFFSEASON

Garnett's trash talk preps rookies for mental challenges

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Garnett's trash talk preps rookies for mental challenges

ISTANBUL At some point during the Boston Celtics' first practice in Turkey, Kevin Garnett and Dionte Christmas had some terse words for each other.

Christmas' play suffered afterward while Garnett stepped his game up.

On Thursday, another C's rookie, Jamar Smith, had a verbal spat with KG.

Smith's game got worse while Garnett once again, took over.

While some might view Garnett's treatment as picking on the young, he's actually preparing them for what's to come.

Legit title contenders like Boston will be challenged both mentally and physically all season. In order to overcome those hurdles, especially the mental ones, it'll require more than a mentally tough starting five - but a mentally fit 15.

The sooner these younger Celtics understand this, the better their chances become of providing some meaningful help this season.

And while Christmas knew before he signed a non-guaranteed contract with the C's that Garnett's verbal game is kind of like his play - top flight - that still didn't prevent him from becoming frustrated.

"I got a little out of focus (on Wednesday)," Christmas told CSNNE.com. "When I was on the floor trying to get the ball, Kevin was talking and I turned around and we started talking and it kind of knocked me off focus."

And when that happens, it's a wrap.

"When he was talking smack to me, he came down and hit the game-winner," Christmas said. "Once somebody talks (back), that means they just pushed the button on him. And that got him going."

Thursday's practice was a different day, different player (Smith) but the same end result.

"He (Garnett) was talking to another rookie and hit three straight jump-shots," Christmas said.

That's just vintage Garnett, a future Hall of Famer who has seemingly mastered the delicate balancing act between knowing when to push and pull young players with the end result - hopefully - them being tough enough mentally to contribute.

Having enough mental strength becomes even tougher during days like Thursday in which players were still adjusting to the seven-hour time difference not to mention just the usual physical pounding their bodies take during training camp.

"You have tough days as far as the physical, physicality parts of it," Garnett said. "You have to be mentally into it. The young boys won't feel the impact of the mental part of this until we get into the latter parts of the season. The physicality, the travel, those are the things that wear on you a little bit."

But if they can withstand the sometimes harsh but necessary teachings of Garnett, those rough moments won't be too bad.

"Chalk that up as a lesson learned from the vets," Christmas said. "You don't talk, just play. Keep your mind on the task at hand."

Which Christmas has discovered, is a very Kevin Garnett-like way of doing things.

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

The wheels of the Kevin Durant free agent train have been set in motion.

"Durant’s representatives at Roc Nation are working to solidify invitations" for meetings with a list of five teams, which includes the Boston Celtics, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. The other teams listed are the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and Thunder. The Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets, and Wizards could "could still find audiences with him," but they are considered outsiders.

Wojnarowski says the Thunder remain the frontrunners, but "the Warriors have Durant's attention."

If Durant chooses the Warriors it could happen very quickly. Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes could sign an offer sheet for a contract on July 1, which would mean the Warriors would have only have three days to match the deal. They'd likely need a decision from Durant before then, or they'd risk losing one of their valuable pieces without being able to fill his role.

Durant plans on making his decision before July 9 anyway, according to Wojnarowski, because that's when he's leaving for a publicity tour in the Far East.

The fact the Celtics are even on Durant's primary list shouldn't come as a surprise considering his actions after his game in Boston against the Celtics earlier this year. They do have tough competition though. Both the Warriors and Heat have the cap space to absorb Durant's likely max contract worth about $26.4 million, and the Spurs can easily create the space if necessary.

The Clippers are interesting though, because they'd have to deal one of their stars (Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, or Blake Griffin) to free the cap space to sign Durant. If he does choose the Clippers, maybe Danny Ainge could help Doc Rivers swing a deal. How about something involving Blake Griffin and Jae Crowder?

But the Celtics have an edge. Their the only team listed that can sign two max contract free agents. If Durant wants to play with his buddy Al Horford, or anyone else for that matter, the Celtics can make it happen easily. How about a 2007 draft class reunion with Durant, Horford, and Jared Dudley? It's an odd trio, but Dudley has already expressed interest in joining the Celtics.

No matter what happens, though, the Celtics are in the race. Celtics fans might be disappointed after Thursday night. But we're just getting started, folks.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA