He is the first of four children in his family and the only boy in the bunch, which means Timberwolves assistant coach Ryan Saunders didn’t have an older brother until he was 9 years old.
That’s when a kid himself named Kevin Garnett came to town.
Garnett still was a teenage sensation whom the Timberwolves selected directly out of high school, fifth overall in the 1995 draft. A decade separated the future superstar who soon simply would be called Da Kid from a real kid, the son of Wolves coach Flip Saunders.
Ten years and worlds apart in their upbringings didn’t matter. Ryan Saunders still considers Garnett something of the brother he never had.
“I’d like to think of him that way,” he said, “and I always have.”
They played video games together when Saunders was young, before Saunders said he “grew out of that.”
When he reached junior-high school and became a Wolves ball boy, Saunders spent countless hours shagging missed shots for a young star who on Thursday returned to the franchise that drafted him 20 years ago. Garnett still is its all-time leader in games played, minutes played, rebounds, steals, blocked shots and points, and all by a large margin.
“Outside of my mother and father, I learned more from him on how to carry yourself, how to be a professional and how to be disciplined in life,” Saunders said.
On Thursday, his father announced the trade with Brooklyn that brought Garnett back home in many ways to the franchise where he spent his first 12 NBA seasons. At an evening news conference, Flip Saunders recalled how his son served as Garnett’s gofer, the kid who used to go get Da Kid’s hot dogs.
“I don’t know if I remember him eating any hot dogs,” Ryan Saunders said.
What he does remember is all those hours shagging basketballs for a player obsessed with getting better.
“With him, it was always rebounding,” Saunders said. “One thing I loved about him: If I threw a bad pass, whether I was 10 years old or 16, he let me know. That made me a better passer, a better rebounder.”
And in the process, Saunders believes all that time spent together made him a better person.
“I was a quiet kid,” said Saunders, who 20 years later seems still not all that different. “I just sat and listened to him a lot. I learned a ton from him. He always took care of me.”
Saunders remembers Garnett always outfitting him with sneakers and apparel from whatever shoe deal Garnett’s agent had negotiated at the time. Those gestures saved a father who now owns part of the team money when it came to clothing his own kid.
“One thing about KG is he takes care of all his people,” Flip Saunders said. “That’s one thing people don’t understand. He never liked to do anything in public. He wanted to do things on his own, things no one knew about. He took care of the people who were close to him very much.”
All these years later, both have grown. Garnett now is a 38-year-old star nearing the end of his career who decided just before Thursday’s midafternoon trade deadline to discover whether you really can go home again.
Saunders is a 28-year-old assistant coach who stayed on the Washington Wizards staff after his father was fired as head coach and then rejoined him back home in Minnesota last summer.
Garnett and Ryan Saunders lost touch over the years, until the Wizards played Garnett’s Celtics team during Saunders’ first season in Washington.
“The first time, I saw him make eye contact, and he looked over at the bench and did a double-take,” Saunders said. “I think he was surprised with my growing up as well.”
NBA short takes
Sometimes future is now
Thursday’s trade that brought Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota basically means the Timberwolves traded Kevin Love last summer for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Garnett, surrendering a chance to keep Miami’s first-round pick this summer the process.
And Wolves coach/chief executive Flip Saunders is good with that.
“I’ll say this,” he said about trading the Miami pick for Thad Young in August and then flipping Young for Garnett. “K.G., I believe, will have more of an impact than what that pick would have delivered over the years.”
Saunders said he tried to get Garnett rather than Young as a third piece in the trade with Cleveland but said Brooklyn — or Garnett with his no-trade clause —wasn’t ready yet to do that.
NBA teams gone wild
NBA teams made 11 trades involving 39 players before Thursday afternoon’s deadline. Phoenix made three of those involving nine players and four first-round picks either coming or going. Even with Goran Dragic gone and Brandon Knight arrived, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek wouldn’t call it the wildest deadline day he has seen.
He remembers a 1988 game during his playing career when his team didn’t take the floor until a few minutes before game time while the Suns completed a trade that brought Kevin Johnson, Mark West and Ty Corbin. “To me, that was almost crazier,” Hornacek said.
Have trophy will travel
Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine didn’t want to let the trophy he won wowing the world in last weekend’s All Star slam-dunk contest out of his sight, especially not in New York City.
So he lugged it home himself, bringing it home on the plane as carry-on luggage.
“In a big ol’ bag,” he said. “It looked like I was grocery shopping.”
He also attracted a bunch of news fans, including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. He asked for an autograph and photo taken. “Wolf Blitzer actually reacted to me like I should have reacted to him,” LaVine said.
Wolves’ week ahead
Monday: 7 p.m. at Houston (FSN)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Washington (FSN)
Friday: 7 p.m. at Chicago (FSN)
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Memphis (FSN Plus)
Player to watch: James Harden, Rockets
Wolves designated perimeter defender Andrew Wiggins gets his third look at the NBA’s leading scorer and a guy who averaged 30.5 points on 47.5 percent shooting the first two times around.
« I’m excited. I can’t wait to have him yell at the young guys. »
– Wolves guard Ricky Rubio on the prospect of playing with newly acquired Kevin Garnett.