Kevin Garnett is one of just four remaining active NBA players that played in the 1990s; the other three being Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, and Dirk Nowitzki. Having played 21 seasons, 14 with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett is unsure if he will play out his final contracted season in 2016-17.
Garnett, 40, is slated to earn $8 million with the Timberwolves next season. However, team owner Glen Taylor explained to NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner that during a meeting with Garnett last month, he expressed doubt about playing.
“I just asked him, ‘Kevin, what are you going to do?’ His answer was, ‘I’d really like to play next year 'cuz I’d like to go out knowing we got into the playoffs,’” Taylor said.
“Then he said, ‘I don’t know if I can.’
“I asked him, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘I don't know.’
Taylor believes that Garnett’s knees, which have taken a pounding over his 20-year career, cannot withstand the grind of an 82-game season. That was evident last year when a right knee injury sidelined Garnett for the entire second half of the season. In 38 games, the former MVP averaged just 3.2 points and 3.9 points in 14.6 minutes per game.
It was the same injury that sidelined Garnett for 25 games his 2008-09 season with the Celtics and 21 games after he was traded back to the Timberwolves during the 2014-15 season.
The 15-time All-Star and former NBA champion is obviously on his last legs as an active player. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, are poised for strong future with reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns and young stalwarts Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Gorgui Dieng. 2016 NBA Draft pick from Providence, Kris Dunn, could potentially displace Ricky Rubio as the team’s starting point guard.
Garnett, who last played in the playoffs with the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets, feels he can make another run at a championship with the Timberwolves’ young core. There’s also a lot to be said for his veteran presence and fierce mentality – which is comprised of trash talk and mind games designed to psych out his competition.
In February 2009, Garnett expressed anger when Celtics coach Doc Rivers wanted his power forward to sit out one practice as he dealt with an injury.
"Coach, you don't understand," Garnett said to Rivers (via ESPN). "If I'm sitting, they will see weakness."
That same warrior-like mentality now doubts his effectiveness.
"I think he's worried if he can play," Taylor said. "I worry about that too. When I talked to him last year, I said, 'Is it your knees or what?' He said, 'It's my whole leg.' "
But that presence is more valuable with a healthy Garnett on the team’s bench as a coach rather than a rehabbing Garnett that’s away rehabbing his latest knee ailment. The savvy veteran can learn a lot from his now-former rival and recent retiree Tim Duncan, who called it quits following a stellar 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs.
Duncan bowed out just as quietly as he entered and played the game. While Garnett’s boisterous and loud personality is different from Duncan’s, he’s always been a win-first player that’s willing to work with younger players – much like Duncan.
But, by the same token, Garnett knows that he has value as an active player. Last season, the Timberwolves were better with Garnett (14-24) than without him (15-29). It’s undeniable that Garnett makes a difference; but is it big enough of a difference to continue playing on balky knees?
"With the talent and the coach there, the lures have to be very attractive to him," Reggie Miller said.
The Timberwolves signed Tom Thibodeau to be the team's new head coach and general manager. He and Garnett are close from their days in Boston when the Celtics won the 2007-08 NBA Finals.
However, the Timberwolves have not made the NBA Playoffs since the 2003-04 season, the same year Garnett won his lone MVP award. Despite the team’s youth, the Timberwolves remain a huge question mark and lack vital playoff experience.
After his legendary career, “The Big Ticket” has punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. But playing in a comprised position in hopes that a young team can battle for a playoff spot is not the type of season Garnett should brace himself for – while wearing a knee brace to boot.
A decision from Garnett may not come for a while as Thibodeau said that "the great ones earn" the consideration to take all the time they need.