HOUSTON – Twenty years ago, they embarked on a decade’s adventure together with the Timberwolves that inevitably led all three men in separate directions for years when it all finally fell apart.
Now Kevin McHale coaches on with a title contender in Houston while Flip Saunders and Kevin Garnett are getting the band back together in Minneapolis after last week’s trade brought the franchise leader in nearly every statistical category back from Brooklyn and Boston after seven-plus seasons away.
On Monday night, Garnett flew into Minnesota to prepare for Tuesday’s first practice with his new — or rather old — team and a welcoming news conference while former partners Saunders and McHale coached against each other in Houston.
“I’m happy for the Timberwolves organization,” McHale said Monday. “For a lot of years, he was, of course, the face of the franchise. It sounds like they’re happy. He’ll do a good job with those guys.”
Hired in 1995 by new Wolves owner Glen Taylor to run the franchise’s lagging basketball operations, McHale and Saunders chose Garnett fifth overall in that draft, making him the first player in 20 years to move directly from high school to the NBA.
All these years later, the four players selected before Garnett have retired. At age 38, he keeps playing — at least for a year, maybe two beyond this one — in a career destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday, Garnett physically returns home for the first time to the franchise where he played his first 12 NBA seasons before a 2007 trade sent him to the Celtics, presumably to finish his career where it all started.
He also might be here for the very long run. Garnett told Yahoo Sports in November that he wants to put together an ownership group and buy the team when his playing days are over.
“Well, he made a lot of money if that’s the case,” McHale said.
McHale was asked Monday if it seems right that Garnett return to his NBA beginnings.
“That’s up to Kevin,” McHale said. “So many people do different things. I’m happy for him if he’s happy. He’s a good kid. I spent a lot of time with him. I think it’s great when that can work out if it really works out for both parties. It’s great for the Timberwolves, and Kevin must have felt good about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have signed off on it.”
Garnett waived a no-trade clause minutes before Thursday afternoon’s NBA trade deadline. He arrives Tuesday not the player he once was, but rather a man who has seen it all, done it all and can help team a young Wolves team mature.
“Kevin loves basketball,” McHale said. “He’s competitive. He always has been. He has a wealth of knowledge. He has played a lot of big games, won a championship and he’s not afraid to talk. He’ll say a lot of things.”
Rockets veteran forward Corey Brewer thought he’d hear many of those things when McHale drafted him to play for the Wolves in 2007. But Garnett was traded just weeks later.
“It’s great for the franchise,” said Brewer, who like Garnett was brought back to the Wolves but traded for a second time in a December deal that sent him to Houston. “KG, he’s the face of the franchise, still to this day even though he left for a while. I’m happy for the franchise. I’m happy for him to go back. I think he’ll have a great impact. Those guys need a guy like KG. They’re young. They’re all getting better. They need that voice, that leadership.”
Brewer, Kevin Martin and Mo Williams were the team’s veteran voice in the locker room when the season started. Martin remains, but it’s now Garnett’s presence that will loom large.
“Totally different world now,” Brewer said. “You have a Hall of Famer. You are going to listen to him. Guys are going to listen.”