A legend gone, a rising sun

A legend gone, a rising sun.

Winter

 

            A long time ago, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were on the Wolves. The shiny bald head of Cassell glistening like an alien’s temple. And Spree’s dreads bouncing and weaving like a boxer. They’re long gone, mere mentions in NBA circles or satirized for comments about feeding families. Alongside them, at various times, were Wally Szczerbiak, stored away in the strange names vault, and current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, still relevant. Gone is crowd favorite Mark Madsen, who was not a good basketballer, but was an ideal representation of Minnesotans’ hard working, yet have-fun attitude. In 2003, the stars aligned and I witnessed a Wolves playoff victory. Yeah, it has been over a decade since the much-maligned Minnesota Timberwolves have made it back to the NBA playoffs, longer still since a series victory. 2004 was their last year in, and that was their 8th consecutive appearance, and as such, the current team holds the Association’s present day’s longest playoff drought. Even Philly, Sacramento, Orlando, Denver, Phoenix, Brooklyn and, well, every other team has made it to the playoffs since Minnesota last appeared in the postseason. What happened? A lot since then, and now. A driving factor, however was Kevin Garnett’s presence. The last Minnesota team to surmount to anything was ‘his’ team of 2003. That year, they defeated Sacramento. I was just a gangly kid in high school, new to Minnesota at the time, but I went to one playoff game, and the only one I have been at so far, to witness the energy. Yes, there was energy in the Target Center. Garnett, in his prime was a monster. He may have played outside too much for some to put him at the top of their list of Power Forwards, but the man played his guts off each night. I preferred to watch KG over Timmy Duncan any day. I’d take Tim Duncan to build a franchise around, but hey, that’s a different article. KG, man, he really defended with ferocity, and demanded a lot of his teammates, he could play both sides. His MVP season he averaged 20/10. I imagine a Kobe & KG super team. No one else would play with them after being chewed out all practice long. When I heard the news of his retirement, I was jaded, but also understanding. Sometimes, you know it is for the best. Garnett’s best seasons were way behind him. Even in Brooklyn and the last years in Boston he was a shell of his former self. Nagging knee pain seems to be Garnett’s exit music from the League. With 21 long years of service in the NBA, he has the miles. Long miles too. Garnett was just a skinny kid out of Farragut Academy, SC. He added weight and muscle over the years, but never was he a bulky 6’11. Pushed around in the post all those years. Rebounding like a demon. Trash talking all sorts of nice phrases to opponents. Keeping a decent weight probably has lent to his longevity, in truth.

            Funny thing, I, while still bumming around Minnesota earlier this year, purchased NBA tickets to a rather uninteresting game. Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies. After Marc Gasol was injured, and Zach Randolph getting old. Woowee. What a matchup. Yeah, I wanted to go to a game with my dad to kick it and see some good basketball before I went across the ocean for work. So we went. It was a pretty good game overall. Garnett played like 10 minutes or something, the crowd was enthusiastic for KG when he was introduced. He had some nice plays, a pass here, a few good boxouts, some idyllic pick and roll defense, and the team played better with him on the court. Yet, I wondered how Minnesota could field a lineup with Tayshaun Prince, Garnett, Ricky Rubio, all three can’t shoot too well, with two other players on the court, so the game was by-and-large a “Let’s double team Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns” strategy from the Grizz. Fortunately, some role players stepped up and made shots and the Wolves won the game. Not that it mattered at all. It was only some random mid-season game. My dad wants/wanted the Wolves to win every game, that’s reasonable. He’s a reasonable man, an engineer. But I am a writer, and a creative type overall. I am not trapped in the moment. In fact, my mind is always in another place. So, I’m telling him, “It is okay if Minnesota loses, dad, they might have a better chance of getting a top-three pick in the draft.” He pleads for me to shut up and just wish for the win, because my vibes, or something unreasonable like that, will make them lose. I’m not saying tanking is the answer, but if you win a game, great, if you don’t, fine, this applies for those fringe teams that won’t make the playoffs, and know it, come February, March. The Wolves won, whoop-dee-do, maybe my reverse psychology worked. Did it help them get Kris Dunn in the following draft? I don’t know. I do remember KG knocking down one of his patented elbow jump-shots that he has so long crafted to look effortless. The real story from that game is how Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns really played well and they showed some moxie to close out a game against a quality opponent. Even if Memphis went on to get swept by Golden State in the playoffs that year. It is a blip of a game in the grand scope of things. We both went home happy that we saw an entertaining game, as the NBA is an entertainment product. What we didn’t know, is that we both were at Garnett’s final game as an NBA baller. He claimed “Knee soreness” For much of the rest of the season, dressing sharp, sitting on the bench, and giving advice to the younger players on the roster. The weeks went on, and the playoffs started, Minnesota, having being eliminated thought it was fine that Garnett didn’t play anymore, or give it one last shot late in the season to play in front of the home crowd. Nope. That game was it. Now, more than a blip of a game, it was, and will forever be the final time anyone saw KG suit up. What does it mean for my future? Nothing, to me. It is a memory, and not even that vivid. Because no one knew it would be anything other than another mid-season game. I can’t even remember what the hell happened between tip-off and final-buzzer. I only remember a picture here and there.

            ***

Years ago, I was sad that Garnett left Minnesota to pursue a championship in Boston. It had to be done, though. Minnesota had poor allure for free-agents, and former General Manager, David Kahn, really didn’t have any players pan out the way he planned. I would lay a claim that the culture wasn’t what it needed to be, also. Something was amiss. Minnesota suffered mightily in the years after Garnett’s 2007 departure. At least the Big Ticket got a championship in '08, for that, I was glad. Their struggles are documented no better than the infamous choices made in the 2009 draft. Where Johnny Flynn, and draft-and-stache Rubio were selected over sharpshooter, former, and current, so, two-time MVP Stephen Curry. Also in the draft? Did you remember that the Wolves selected Ty Lawson and traded him to Denver? I, still to this day, do not know what Kahn and the management team were thinking. They also head-scratchingly selected Brandon Roy, only to trade him to the Blazers for the pick right below theirs for Randy Foye in yet another draft day fumble. Roy won Rookie of the year.... Some things made no sense to me. Kevin Love was the best thing in Minnesota basketball for a few years. Especially a highlight game against the OKC Thunder where Love scored 50, Durant, Westbrook each scored a bunch, and Serge Ibaka had a triple double. I’ll never forget. Nonethess, relations soured with Love and finally, the ball bounced in Minnesota’s direction... Cleveland was willing to part with newly drafted Andrew Wiggins for their ‘answer’ to perimeter spacing and interior defense. But Garnett, the loyalty prevailed, he returned to the Land of Lakes two years ago in a lopsided trade. Thaddeus Young for Kevin Garnett. Young, is no doubt a better player at this stage, but the management team couldn’t resist bringing in a franchise icon. Garnett’s 2-year $16 million salary was not egregious, with Minnesota’s ample cap space. And now, they have bought him out in entirety with his retirement. It all comes to a close for the first big star in Minnesota. His chapter in the NBA has now been concluded. The all-time leader in defensive rebounds. The former MVP. NBA Champion with Boston, and defensive legend. Garnett’s passing of the torch to Towns, Wiggins and others who are making their way in the League means the next age of basketball begins. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett, three superstars, three champions, and for those of us in our late 20’s, early 30’s, cannot remember basketball without them. So long, KG. It’s been real.

  ***

As I have documented in my season preview earlier this summer, the Wolves have a strong core contingent of young players to build upon. If Garnett’s legacy has a lasting impression on Towns, he could be the next star in a Wolves uniform. I see great things for in his future. He has the ability to be a monster defensively, and he has the skills to be a solid inside-out scorer, and appears to be wise for his age, ready to work hard to earn his max contract in a few years. Andrew Wiggins’ game is somewhat analogous to Kobe’s. He has the turn-around-high-kick jump shot and major vertical to highlight-reel slam dunks. Young Kobe was also inefficient, like Wiggins is now. But prime Kobe was a cold-blooded killer. With some increased accuracy from 3-point range, Wiggins will be on the right track to open his triple-threat game up even more, just like Kobe did around his third and fourth years in the NBA.

 ***

If you’re not a Wolves fan, or whatever, some random person on Dailytwolves.com for, god-forbid, fun, I hope you have an appreciation for basketball, and that one legend has left the building, three from the League, and as ever, the sport moves on. An endless cycle of, well, very large men playing a game and making more money than is realistically acceptable.