It would have been such a storybook ending, so much so that the incessant media speculated Kevin Garnett might very well finish his career reunited in Los Angeles with coach Doc Rivers in a last hurrah to win one last NBA title together.
Only thing is, the storybook ending got trumped by what Garnett calls a “fairy tale” one instead: His return to Minnesota and the same Timberwolves for whom he played his first 12 NBA seasons.
Garnett said a trade-deadline deal that sent him from Brooklyn back to Minnesota was the only one for which he was willing to waive his no-trade clause.
Rivers might have allowed himself to daydream just a little, had he not known better. The Clippers had no cap space and nothing of worth to offer in a trade, and he never imagined Brooklyn would just let Garnett walk away from the final weeks of his contract by giving back some money.
“I didn’t think they’d ever do a buyout there,” said Rivers, whose Clippers team meets Garnett and the Wolves on Monday in Los Angeles. “They’re actually in a playoff race. When I read or heard that we were going to get him, I kept thinking that made no sense to me. The only way I thought it’d happen is if they really blew up their team and at the end of the day, they didn’t.”
In the end, the Nets didn’t trade veterans Joe Johnson or Brook Lopez. In the end, Garnett agreed to return to the Wolves, a team that Rivers well knew Garnett never wanted to leave in 2007.
The Celtics tried to acquire Garnett before the 2007 draft by offering the fifth overall pick, Al Jefferson and other pieces, but Garnett refused, so the Celtics traded the pick for Ray Allen instead. The Celtics struck a different deal a month later that Garnett again declined before he finally agreed. That trade brought him a NBA championship playing alongside Allen and Paul Pierce in their first season together.
“It’s almost nutty,” Rivers said. “You think about it: He held up the trade to Boston twice. The original one he blew up when all the basketball sense was he’d come to Boston. Then the second time when we got Ray, he still held the trade up because he didn’t want to be feeling like he was bailing on Minnesota. We had to do some convincing. I was amazed by that. I was worried about him for a while. What’s wrong with this guy?
“Then you find when you get him, you get it. That’s why when I read there was a chance for him to come back to Minnesota, I said that’s going to happen.“
Garnett and Rivers spent six seasons together in Boston and reached the NBA Finals twice, winning it all in 2008, their first year together.
Garnett called Rivers’ influence a “huge impact on my career” that taught him and every teammate the true meaning of teamwork, teamwork and self-respect.
“Great times in my life, times I will never forget, monumental times,” Garnett said. “Some of the best times of my basketball career.”
Rivers called the feeling mutual.
“I took a lot from him, I always think I took more from him than he got from me,” Rivers said. “He was good before he got to me. He didn’t need me. I just loved his professionalism. In Boston, he changed our culture. He literally changed our culture.”
Rivers promises Garnett will do the same with a young Wolves team who might think Garnett’s intensity and professionalism are too good to be real.
“They’re going to learn all that,” Rivers said. “He can do a ton to change their culture there because once he leaves, it’s there. The Wigginses, the LaVines, the Paynes will see it and they will carry it on.”
NBA short takes
Nuggets bring in a ringer
Longtime assistant coach Melvin Hunt made his NBA head coaching debut last week, leading Denver to consecutive victories over Milwaukee and the Timberwolves after the Nuggets fired Brian Shaw and promoted Hunt to interim head coach.
Unofficially, though, he was 3-0: Hunt was brought in over All-Star break to coach his son’s eighth-grade team and led the Cherry Hills, Colo., team to its first victory over the school’s staff in nearly 20 years.
“The staff always had a ringer, a guy so they asked me to coach them,” Hunt said. “They thought I was the best thing in the world. Here I am now, head coach in the NBA.”
Jordan, CP3 are Clippers’ new two-man game
While the Los Angeles Clippers continue to wait for Blake Griffin’s return from an infected elbow, center DeAndre Jordan just keep on grabbing rebounds. He has collected 15 or more in 10 consecutive games, the NBA’s longest active streak and the longest by a Clipper since the 1985-86 season.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders calls Jordan’s recent stretch, particularly his rebounding, “phenomenal” and called Jordan the league’s player best at setting screens to free teammates. Saunders’ team plays Jordan’s Clippers Monday in Los Angeles.
“Right now, both Jordan and Chris Paul are the top players at their respective positions, with how they’re playing,” Saunders said, referring to Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul. “Those guys are carrying them.”
Who is that masked man?
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook’s captivating streak of consecutive triple-double games ended at four Thursday when the NBA’s leading scorer delivered a mere 43 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a loss at Chicago while wearing a clear mask to protect a facial fracture. Those were the most triple-doubles in a row since Michael Jordan did so in seven consecutive games during the 1988-89 season.
Wolves’ week ahead
Monday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Clippers (FSN)
Wednesday: 9 p.m. at Phoenix (FSN)
Friday: 7 p.m. at Okla. City (FSN Plus)
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook, Thunder
A masked man who just pulled off four consecutive triple-double games has put himself foremost in the league MVP conversation, all the while keeping the Thunder in the playoff race while Kevin Durant’s injured foot heals.
« To be honest, they quit on Brian Shaw. I thought they’d quit again. A quitter is a quitter. »
— Kevin Garnett on a Denver team that Wednesday thumped his Wolves after it lost enough to get coach Brian Shaw fired.