Kevin Garnett returned to Target Center on Tuesday and the first NBA franchise he ever called home with a charming, winning introductory news conference in which he made no promises how much longer he will play.
But the future Basketball Hall of Famer, who will bring the Timberwolves limited minutes but unmeasurable experience made one thing perfectly clear: He is back for the long haul.
Whether he plays for only this season’s remaining 27 games (unlikely) or another season or two more, Garnett is set on someday owning the team he left nearly eight years ago in a trade that brought him to Boston and the NBA championship he never won in Minnesota.
“I am,” he said when asked about being here for that long haul. “That is the goal. At some point, I want to understand ownership and try to get into that and bring a championship to this city. That has been my goal since I became a Wolf.”
But first he must acquaint himself with his new teammates and reacquaint himself with a city in which he still owns a home but barely knows from the last time he lived here.
“I’ll be honest with you, I do not recognize downtown at all,” said Garnett. “My friends try to take me to Uptown, and I don’t recognize nothing.”
Tuesday was all about coming home for Garnett and saying hello to faces and friends he hadn’t seen in years: team employees, arena staff and the grown children of coach/chief executive Flip Saunders, whom he said he hadn’t seen since they sucked a pacifier or spoke in a voice a couple of octaves higher.
He also met his new teammates, including a pair of the most promising — rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — who were born the same year the Wolves drafted Garnett fifth overall in 1995. Garnett practiced with his new team — or old team? — for the first time Tuesday afternoon before he took center stage for a news conference carried worldwide online and on NBA TV.
“I was kind of excited and afraid at the same time,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “He’s KG, you know?”
Hey, LeBron went home …
Garnett called Thursday’s last-minute decision to waive a no-trade clause in his contract a “hard decision for me because I am a loyal person.” But he did so and cleared the way for a midseason trade from Brooklyn to Minnesota, a state filled with old friends expected to greet him with a thunderous welcome when he plays his first game in that familiar jersey No. 21 Wednesday night against Washington at Target Center.
Garnett, accompanied by his wife, two daughters, a sister and representatives, called his return here the only option he would have approved in the last season of a contract that pays him $12 million this year.
“I saw this as a great opportunity for me,” Garnett said. “So I’m just happy to be here, and I figure if LeBron can go home, why can’t I?”
Superstar LeBron James’ decision to return home from Miami to Cleveland last summer enabled the trade that sent the Timberwolves’ second franchise player named Kevin away, with August’s deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.
Garnett’s decision to accept the Wolves’ overtures — weeks, perhaps months in the making — brought back the original franchise player, beginning with a celebration Saunders basically described in one word.
“I can tell you, I’m extremely happy,” Saunders said. “I believe KG’s happy. I believe I know somebody who’s happy: his sister, because she always loved Minnesota. And I know one thing: I know the people of Minnesota are happy.”
At age 38, Garnett said it is fitting — no, it’s more than that — that he’d finish out his playing days by going back to its beginnings.
“It’s perfect,” Garnett said. “If you have a story, this is a fairy tale. This is a perfect ending to it. This is how you want to do it. … I know these are the declining days of my playing days, but I think I have so much more to bring. This is the perfect situation. This is full-circle right here.”
Lessons in patience
To get here, Garnett had to let go of the past and what he admitted Tuesday was an embittered divorce when the Wolves traded him to Boston. They never made the playoffs before his 1995 arrival and haven’t made them since that July 2007 departure, when the team decided to build anew with youth after he refused to accept anything less than a maximum contract extension.
“I wasn’t really happy in how I left here,” Garnett said. “My goal since I’ve been in the league was to win a championship, and I wanted it to be here in the Twin Cities. I’ve always wanted that.”
It ended without that title and with relationships that needed mending with the men who traded him, Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor. Garnett said he has done so in recent years with McHale and believes he can as well with Taylor, who publicly suggested shortly after the trade that Garnett “tanked it” by missing the final five games injured of his final season in Minnesota.
“You know what, throughout time, I’ve understood that you have to forgive and forget,” Garnett said. “I obviously won’t forget certain things, but it’s time to move on. … Glen and I always had an understanding. I wouldn’t have come back if the relationship was to the point where it’s not reachable. I’m looking forward to this opportunity and I’m embracing this change.”
Famed for his intensity and demanding personality, Garnett said fatherhood — he has two young daughters — has given him the necessary patience to adapt to a young team that he believes has “endless” talent and unlimited potential. He also once was 19 and an NBA rookie.
“Anybody who has kids knows you gotta have patience,” Garnett said. “I have a lot of patience. I’ve gained a lot of patience. I’ve learned to communicate better with my teammates. I understand what it’s like to be young. … I’m here to share my experiences, my journey and instill confidence in these young guys and just give myself to the team. The only way these guys get better is through some type of leadership, some type of guidance and I’m hoping to bring that.”