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.