Garnett's legacy lives on through young NBA stars

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Garnett's legacy lives on through young NBA stars

HOUSTON As the elder statesman at this year's NBA All-Star Game, Kevin Garnett knows his days attending such events won't last much longer - if ever again.

That was the message he tried to deliver last week, only for it to come out as though he was thinking about retirement.

But for players who have been in the NBA for as long as Garnett has, to have the kind of individual and team success he has garnered through the years, is a reminder as to what he has meant to the league as a whole.

Although he played just six minutes for the East in their 143-138 loss to the Western Conference All-Stars, that in no way should diminish the impact he has had on the NBA.

But to fully embrace Garnett's impact on the league as a whole, look no further than the NBA's top young big men who played in Sunday's All-Star Game, most of whom in some form have benefited from Garnett.

"The most difficult thing in the NBA is to be consistent," said Golden State's David Lee. "His consistency and the way he has been on winning teams, the way he has been a leader, those things are tough to come by especially for as many years as he has done it."

And while Garnett admittedly has slowed down some in recent years, his impact on the game remains a strong one.

"Everyone in this league respects KG so much," said Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. "His fire and passion for the game. And his skill."

All those qualities have certainly contributed to what has been a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

But what often separated Garnett from other superstars was his passion and intensity for the game, the kind of intangibles that serve as the hallmark for the body of work that is his NBA career.

"He's a Hall-of-Famer," said Memphis forward Zach Randolph. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder. That's the way guys need to approach the game. He's like that in the game and in practice. He always brings it. And he's a leader."

And it is that last trait - leadership - that Garnett has displayed with the same steady, relentless focus that he has managed to do throughout his 17-plus NBA seasons.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan is another All-Star this year who may be playing his last one.

Like Garnett, he too is considered one of those players whose play stood head and shoulders above most.

And as competitive as Duncan can be when facing Garnett, it's clear that he has a strong amount of respect for him.

"He's had a great career," Duncan said. "He's blessed with a championship. We've had our battles back and fourth, but every guy that has played with him ... the die-hard teammate and the passion and the energy that he brings to the game. He has had a great career."

Garnett is quick to shun all the talk about his career as though retirement will be coming quickly.

He has two years left on the three-year, 36 million deal he signed last summer. But as has been the case in recent years, he will spend some time this summer evaluating whether he wants to return or call it career.

When Garnett does walk away, you can find his imprint on the game in the games of several of today's young stars.

"I grew up watching him play and I took some of his moves and made them my own," said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. "He's been big for the game of basketball and for young big men."

And what makes Garnett's longevity all that more impressive has been that he suffered a major knee injury and bounced back to continue being a high-impact player at both ends of the floor for Boston.

"He was one of my favorite players," said Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard. "I'm happy to see him come back from injuries and stuff like that, to be able to play; to be able to play as well as he's playing."

Added Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin: "He's been unbelievable for a long, long time. At the power forward position, there haven't been many like him who have accomplished what he's accomplished. He's definitely left his mark, with his intensity. Everybody knows his skill and how good a basketball player he is. But the way he approaches the game and the level of professionalism he has is second to none."

But as flattering as the All-Stars are to Garnett's game, he has gotten under the skin of all of them at some point during their careers.

"KG is one of those guys that's once in a lifetime," said Clippers guard Chris Paul. "I'll never forget the first two or three times I played against KG when I came into the league. We both got techs every game just because of the intensity. He'd say something to me, and I wasn't going to back down. He's one of those guys that I genuinely appreciate and always said this, I'd love to have KG on my team. He's focused and I love that about him."

And while players may indeed grit their teeth at some of Garnett's in-game chatter sessions, there's no question they all would not mind if he were donning the same jersey as they wore.

Lee recalls how Garnett was especially tough on him his first couple seasons in the NBA.

"He was a guy that when I came in as a rookie, when I immediately stepped on the floor, he said, 'Hey rookie, what are you doing out here? Completely started giving me trouble."

For the seemingly always-colorful trash talk that Garnett brings to the game, that's extremely mild.

"Maybe not in those words," said a grinning Lee who added, "The biggest compliment you can say about him is if he's on your team you love him, and when you play against him you hate him. That can be looked at as a bad thing. But it's really one of the greatest compliments you can give."

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!