By Rich Levine
When Kevin Garnett speaks, his teammates listen.
Unless they don't, in which case Garnett never speaks to them again.
Is that a little too cut and dry?
Maybe, but that's the impression we're left with after Doc Rivers' Monday afternoon meeting with the media.
If you haven't heard, after Monday's practice, KG held a private workout at the far end of the gym with rookie big men Luke Harangody and Semih Erden. Admittedly, I wasn't there, but from the video it's obvious that this wasn't your average "workout."
Garnett was coaching them.
Have you ever seen those old Red on Roundball segments from the '80s? You know, the ones where Red Auerbach calmly and playfully runs players through basic drills?
This was nothing like that.
KG was, as you can imagine, KG. He was Mike Singletary meets Rick Pitino vocal, animated, intense and intimidating. He held nothing back as he schooled the pair in the wonders of pick-and-roll defense, regardless of the fact that he likely doesnt know either very well and one hardly speaks English.
Garnett was just his same fiery, unrelenting self. The same KG you see every single time he takes the court.
After the session, Rivers was asked to comment:
"He helps the ones he likes," Rivers said. "Kevin is great. Kevin tries to help every big in here. If that big doesn't listen to him one time, he'll never speak to him again. Literally speak to him. That has happened a couple of times. Those two guys that he did that to are no longer here and that may be one of the reasons."
At first, this hit me as strange. You know, just the thought of the undisputed leader of the Celtics completely ostracizing a teammate literally ceasing to speak to or acknowledge him just because he didn't want to take KG's advice one time.
That sets an awkward tone, creates tension in the locker room and messes with the mind of a guy who's only an injury or two away from having to contribute at a very real level.
Its a slippery slope, too. What if theres more than one player on a given team who doesnt listen? Does KG just stop talking to all of them? That can't be good for business.
But the more I thought about it, and honestly, it didn't take me very long to flip flop, the more I understood KG's actions.
First of all, Kevin Garnett is arguably one of the 25 greatest players in NBA history.
I think we forget that sometimes. Or maybe that's just me.
I don't know if it's the fact that I never got a chance to see him enough in his prime, or if my memory's been clouded by watching him limp through the entire 2009-10 season, but sometimes I misremember just how legendary the guy is. Were talking literally one of the all-time greats. To his credit, he's more than embraced the concept of Boston's Big 3, but the truth is he's in a different league than Pierce and Allen when it comes to NBA legacy. He is legend.
Over the course of his career, Garnett has certainly had to come to grips with the fact that most, if not all, of his teammates will be less capable than him on a physical level. And he probably knows that just as few can ever match him on the mental level. Like all superstars, he's adjusted his reality and learned to be more tolerant and understanding of other players' abilities.
But the one thing Garnett doesn't, and never will, tolerate are players who don't share his drive for self-improvement. The need to get better and be better and do whatever it takes to get there.
And if you're unwilling to take advice from Garnett regardless of his tone, or the circumstances then that's proof you don't have what it takes. I mean, it's not like the guy's advising you on which girl to marry or which car to buy. He's trying to teach you a specific skill that a) directly affects your life and b) he understands better than just about and anyone in the world, and you can't swallow your pride? Then KG has no use for you. Especially at this point in his career; especially considering what he has with this Celtics team.
Garnett loves basketball, but he still treats it like a job. His job is to win, and he's more driven to achieve that than maybe anyone who's ever played.
But this is a team game; Garnett knows he can't do it by himself. So he builds an army of guys who can best help him do that. He instills in them the values, priorities and motivations that he knows will give them the best chance to get there, and prays to God it sticks.
When KG's coaching up Erden, Harangody, Mikki Moore or Patrick O'Bryant, he's not looking for a new friend, or a new partner in crime or even to mold a future NBA All-Star. He's looking for pieces to his championship puzzle. He's looking for the guys who get it; the guys who are smart enough to let him make them better.
Not every player is built like that. Not everyone has the mental toughness, confidence, dedication and drive to exist in that atmosphere. But if you don't, you just don't have a place on Kevin Garnett's Celtics. And you probably dont have any place in this league.
So, yeah, in a perfect world, would you like KG to look past the shortcomings of his less-capable, more-dogmatic teammates, play nice and keep everything kosher in the locker room? Sure. But in this world, asking for a different Kevin Garnett is asking for a different Boston Celtics team.
And considering where they were before he showed up, that's a world no one except for the likes of Mikki Moore and Patrick OBryant is ready to deal with.