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Patrick Reusse: Garnett shouldn't feel slighted

  • Article by: Patrick Reusse
  • Star Tribune
  • June 27, 2007 - 9:21 PM

The Minneapolis Lakers were here from the fall of 1947 through the spring of 1960. It was a year later, with the arrival of the Twins and then the Vikings, that Minnesota became a bona fide major league sports area.

Three years ago, when Kevin Garnett was 28, he led his team to the Western Conference finals and was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player. There was a strong feeling that, when Garnett's career with the Timberwolves was finished, he would be remembered as the greatest athlete of Minnesota's major league era.

It has not turned out that way.

The Wolves had 58 victories in the 2003-04 season. The victory totals in the three non-playoff years since then are 44, 33 and 32. Garnett has received full immunity from the public and the media for this decline, yet if he was as great as was believed not long ago, his team could not be among the league's worst.

When a Wolves follower watched LeBron James, Cleveland's one-man attack, finish against Detroit in the key game of the Eastern Conference finals, you couldn't help but be reminded of all those games that Garnett, as his team's one-man attack, could not finish.

There isn't an NBA writer from the Los Angeles Times to Yahoo! Sports without a rumor on where Garnett will wind up before tonight's draft. Whenever there is opinion offered with these reports, it includes the following points:

A) As a noble warrior, Garnett has an inalienable right to go to a team where he can win a championship; and B) now that the basketball world has determined the Wolves were shopping Garnett, the team has to trade him or find itself with a justifiably indignant star.

The first of these points has been driving me crazy for quite some time. Garnett was part of a team that had the best record in the Western Conference in 2004. When you have the best record in the best conference, that's a chance to win a championship, and Garnett and pals didn't get it done.

So now, his team has gone in the tank, and Garnett is made into a martyr. It is a role that KG seems to relish, particularly with the national media. An All-Star weekend tradition has become the interview where Garnett laments the condition of the Wolves, yet vows to continue to expend sweat, blood and fist pumps in the effort to win.

I'd trade all those emotional displays we see from KG in the fourth quarter of a close game for a single non-stop foray to the basket in the final seconds. What we get is the 16-foot jumper that bangs off the iron, followed by Kevin's familiar, head-hanging walk off the court.

Yes, he shows up and gives it an effort every night, and he has an enviable all-around game. But it doesn't change this: If Garnett was as good in the clutch as a Duncan, James, Wade or Bosh, the Wolves wouldn't have returned to the 30s in victories.

And this other idea -- that there has been so much noise about a Garnett trade that the Wolves now can't bring him back -- is even more ridiculous than the KG-as-martyr opinion pieces.

Garnett has been paid $186.4 million in his 12 seasons in Minnesota. He has $22 million coming in 2007-08, and has the option of receiving another $24 million in 2008-09.

If the Wolves can make a deal involving Phoenix and Boston, or Phoenix and Atlanta, or the Lakers and who knows, then fair enough.

KG goes and tries to win his title with Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant, and the Wolves get younger and start dreaming about being a powerhouse by 2011 or so.

And if not, the Wolves and those hundreds of remaining loyal fans are entitled to anticipate that Garnett will return and offer his 38 minutes of nightly all-around excellence, to be capped by an 16-footer that goes clang.

A great athlete has no right to be offended that his team tried to trade him -- not while he's also accepting paychecks that add to $22 million.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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