Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves filed for basketball divorce on July 31, 2007.
Since that fateful day eight years ago, when the Ticket was traded to Boston, the Timberwolves have a combined record of 186 wins and 425 losses and have never made the NBA playoffs. Their fans have endured the ignominy of David Kahn, Jonny Flynn, Kurt Rambis’ wispy-ass mullet and the recent departure of another talented power forward named Kevin.
Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett won a championship, played in two NBA Finals and has been in the playoffs every season.
Against all reasonable odds, these old flames reunited yesterday as Garnett agreed to waive his trade clause and return to the Wolves. It’s been nearly 24 hours and I still can’t believe it – the only real basketball hero the state of Minnesota has ever had (sorry, Mikan and McHale) is coming home.
Let’s start with the obvious: very little about yesterday’s trade makes objective sense. Garnett is a 38-year-old manically competitive pterodactyl whose recent attempt to literally bite Joakim Noah during a game is probably only like the ninth-weirdest altercation he’s had in his career. He’s hyper-competitive, passionate, prideful.
In contrast, the Timberwolves are the worst team in the NBA and are likely years away from sniffing even the fringes of the playoffs. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine were born in the same year that Garnett was drafted. He is quite literally old enough to be their father.
So, yes: this is an exceptionally weird fit for each party’s competitive arc. And yes, a small portion of Timberwolves fans are likely questioning the decision to give up 26-year-old Thaddeus Young for a past-his-prime KG who was only playing 20 minutes per game for the exceptionally uninteresting Brooklyn Nets.
But for most long-suffering Wolves fans? Goosebumps.
They remember Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in 2004, when KG dropped 31 points and 21 rebounds on his 28th birthday to push his team past the Sacramento Kings. They remember Garnett bellowing “This is for everybody in ‘Sota!” after winning an NBA Championship with the Celtics in 2008. And for the casual Wolves observer, he might be the only Minnesota Timberwolf they can even name; no one else has been memorable enough to warrant consideration.
Good thing nobody good enough came along in all this time to make #Twolves fans update their jerseys from KG’s name & number.
— C. Riemenschneider (@ChrisRstrib) February 19, 2015
Even at age 38, Garnett can still be an asset for the Wolves. Minnesota’s deficiencies are numerous, but cast your eye first towards their league-worst defense, currently allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions. Garnett has always been a maniacal defender – chirping and barking instructions to his teammates, flashing his Go-Go-Gadget arms into passing lanes and crashing the defensive glass. And even as he inches ever closer to an AARP membership, advanced metrics rate KG as the league’s sixth-best defensive power forward. Additionally, there’s been a disturbing lack of head-butting, crotch-punching and incoherent screaming from the Timberwolves this year. Garnett should improve upon this deficiency immediately.
With the Wolves’ basketball future understandably focused upon the continued development of young players like Wiggins, LaVine and Ricky Rubio, the basketball value of this trade hinges entirely on the length and amount of the reported contract extension the team is working on with Garnett. If the two sides agree to something reasonable – say $4 million per year for two years – then KG adds value to the team’s current rebuilding project through mentoring and his impact on defense alone. But if the Wolves negotiate an extension that sniffs close to his current $12-million-per-year price tag, their flexibility in the years ahead will be severely compromised.
But honestly, who cares? For better or worse, I don’t think anyone in Minnesota – Flip Saunders included – is really thinking about that at the moment. People are too busy pulling their No. 21 jerseys out of mothballs and remembering the franchise’s only true glory days. They’re not worried about arcane details like long-term salary cap management. That’s tomorrow’s problem.
Kevin Garnett did not deserve to end his storied career playing out meaningless games for the aimless exurb of mediocrity that is the Brooklyn Nets. Thanks to Flip Saunders and the powerful gravity of nostalgia, he won’t have to. He gets to come home.