Is this it for KG?

694380.jpg

Is this it for KG?

This summer, Kevin Garnett will become a free agent for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. A rather impressive (if not entirely intentional) accomplishment when you consider that his career began back when Michael Jordan had only three rings, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were reigning Rookies of the Year and Charles Barkley and Shaquille ONeal averaged a combined 50 points a night instead of 50 bad jokes.

Since then Garnetts transformed from NBA revolutionary to young phenom to All-Star to MVP to On Top of the World. These days, hes come back to Earth. Hes no longer a freakish athlete, but one of the leagues wiliest vets. And although it took a few seasons, hes finally accepted his limitations and altered his game accordingly. As a result, the man we all thought was done (as far back as 2009) has experienced a resurgence.

Of course, hes nowhere near where he was. But hes also so far beyond where we thought he would be. And in a little more than three months, for the first time in his legendary career, hell become a free agent.

In some ways, it might be a little early to speculate as to what hell do. After all, a lot will happen between now and then. And if you believe Danny Ainge (and come on, when has he ever lied to us?), not even KG knows what KG wants. In which case, who are we to try and figure out his future? A bunch of nobody Jeff Teagues, thats who.

But at the same time, its nearly impossible not to speculate. Thats because theres also a very good chance that in a little more than three months, or a little less than three months or simply at some point between now and the start of next season, Kevin Garnett will call it quits. That after these next 18 regular season games, plus however many the Celtics hang around for in the playoffs, Garnett will walk off the court, never look back and spend the rest of his days jogging on the beaches of Malibu and scaring the ever-living crap out of his daughters boyfriends. And as a Celtics fan, or even an NBA fan, how do you not wonder where this thing is headed?

Quick story: Last month, for my birthday, my parents picked me up a duty free bottle of Johnny Walker Blue on their way back from Puerto Rico. Its the first time Id ever had a full bottle of Blue, so I was pretty excited. And, as advertised, it was awesome. Anyway, one night I was sitting on the couch and my girlfriend was in the kitchen, so I asked her to pour me a glass. She did. I enjoyed it. And that was that. Until . . .

A couple of nights later, I was ready for more. So I went into the cabinet, grabbed the bottle and . . . it was empty.

Turns out that last glass had been my last glass. And I'd had no idea.

I wasn't mad at my girlfriend, because I'm not a psycho, but I did think: "Man, I wish I'd known. If only I'd realized that was the last of the Blue, I somehow would have enjoyed it more. At the very least, I would have made a point to savor every last sip."

And I think thats all we want with KG.

If he's going to retire, we just want a heads up. We want to know: "OK, this is it! Now everyone appreciate every last jump shot, after-the-whistle-goal-tend and expletive-filled scream because this is the last you'll see of Kevin Garnett!"

Sadly, considering how tight-lipped and supposedly-indecisive Garnett is on the issue, there's a good chance that won't happen. But in the meantime, here are two things we know for sure:

1. The Celtics want Garnett back
"Yes, absolutely, we want him back," Doc Rivers said before Friday's loss to the 76ers. And on this week's edition of Celtics Courtside Club, Rivers told Greg Dickerson why: I think hes very comfortable, I think hes healthy," Rivers said. "I think moving him to the five has been a big benefit to him. Now hes the quickest guy every night at his position, and I think thats been a big benefit to him as well."

Lets face it: The plan was to get Dwight Howard. And now that the plan has fallen through, at least for this year, the Celtics are in a tough position. Most notably, they don't have a center. And unless they're willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to pry Roy Hibbert (maybe), Brooke Lopez (not likely) or Javale McGee (no freaking way) from their restricted status, this is the crop of unrestricted centers that the Celtics have to choose from:

Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown, Aaron Gray, Robin Lopez, Nazr Mohammed, Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Ben Wallace, Mehmet Okur and JERMAINE ONEAL.

Is there anyone on this list who you'd rather have for next year than KG?

Of course, you won't win a title with 36-year-old Kevin Garnett as your starting center. But short of some magnificent blockbuster, you're not winning next year anyway. So why not stay relatively competitive with a cheaper KG, keep him around to help the younger players and maintain that championship culture, and then make the transition when transitioning makes more sense?

It's not ideal, but in my opinion, that's the Celtics most logical move.

However . . .

2. Other teams want him, too. And badly.

A few weeks ago, SI reported that the Nets are very interested in Garnett. And that if the price is right, he may be one of the most coveted free agents on the market. But, of course, the biggest question here is whether Garnett is even interested in a relocation.

Here's what he said in an interview the Globe last September. (It's the most candid he's ever been on the issue):

"I want to finish my career as a Celtic," he said. "This is it. I dont plan on bouncing from team-to-team, thats not really the plan. Hopefully God willing, I can finish my career out in the classy, elegant with a class-full organization as Boston. I dont want to downgrade. I want to continue to be where Im at. This is the first option and hopefully the only option."

OK, so first of all, we can rule out NJ and any other middle of the road team, because KG's not downgrading. But what about the other teams?

What if Chicago amnesties Carlos Boozer (or Rip Hamilton), signs Ronnie Fields to the vet minimum and asks KG to come back in play in a city he once called home, and for perhaps the only coach in the league he respects as much as Doc. What if Dallas wants him to join Dirk and D-Will or either of the LA teams make a push?

I don't know. On one hand, it would be great to see KG have another chance to compete for a title. And in the above quote, I'd say he leaves the window open a tiny crack . . .

But I don't see it happening.

It would be one thing if the Celtics were ready to let him walk. If Doc said, "Kevin, we love you. We'll never forget what you did for us. But we need to move on." But that's obviously not the case. It's only March and Doc is already in full recruitment mode. If he's being this open with the media about how badly he wants Garnett back in the fold, you can only imagine what he's saying behind the scenes. And considering the relationship the Rivers and Garnett have formed over the past five years, it's almost unfathomable that Garnett would walk away. Even if he wanted to.

But the biggest question is still: Does he want to play at all?

And that's what we'll be asking ourselves right up until July 1.

Right now, you get the sense that he wants to play. Mostly because he still can. We all imagined that Garnett would be limping his way into the summer of 2012, but that's just not the case. He has some left. And he's not the kind of guy you'd expect to leave that on the table. So, if I had to guess right now, I'd say KG is back next season. With the Celtics.

I never dreamed that could happen, but when you consider:

a) KG's health and productivity
b) The state of the Celtics
c) That it's only March and Doc Rivers who KG absolutely loves is already publicly pleading for Garnett to return.

It almost makes sense.

If there's one monkey wrench in Doc's recruitment plan, I'd say it comes back to the center position. The Celtics clearly want Garnett back to play the 5, and Garnett has been very open in the past about not wanting to play there.

Let's say the Celtics finish with the sixth seed, draw Orlando in the first round, and KG spends seven games exchanging blows with Dwight Howard. And what if the Celtics win that series, draw Chicago and KG's faced with five or six games of Joakim Noah. Couldn't you see him coming out of those playoffs thinking: "Man, this isn't me. I'm not a center. It's time to go."

I can. But who knows? For now that's all speculation.

And for now, unfortunately, that's all we have.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

bruins-noel-acciari.jpg

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.