We're dangerously close to the start of the NBA season, with all its drama and months of madness. To us, part of the beauty of the NBA is that its focus, while ultimately on the team, falls on the individual. The plight of one player becomes an epic tale in the shadow of Jordan; who is the real alpha dog? It's this source of expression and personal comedy/tragedy that makes the game so compelling. There's nowhere to hide out there.
No site captures this feel more than the great Free Darko, which we read like a doctor's chart every day during the NBA season. They understand the dichotomy between individual achievement and collective glory, and how those are not mutually exclusive. And they've got a way with letters too. Right now, they're actually doing a writeup on every single NBA player.
Therefore, we've asked them to look at the arcs of certain players going into this season, what 2007-08 means to them, their teams and their legacies. They'll be previewing a player a day, up to tipoff.
Today: Kevin Garnett. Your author is Dr. Lawyer IndianChief. His words are after the jump.
Kevin Garnett is the moral center of the NBA universe and the newfound spokesman for the league after being traded from Minnesota to Boston this summer. As a Timberwolves fan since Sidney Lowe was running point with Sam Mitchell on the wing, my NBA offseason felt like a parental divorce, a reincarnation, a bar mitzvah and a funeral all in one. I revoke a mentor, I breathed anew, I grew up a little bit, and I performed mummification and ancestral worship rituals at the site of a lost loved one. My forecast for KG's season will read as the NBA fan's seven stages of grief.
1. Underwhelmed dullness. I always thought it would hurt more than it actually did, but my rationalization mechanisms kicked in immediately. A general desensitizing hum accompanied my complete lack of surprise, given that the Timberwolves had already reportedly been shopping KG around the time of the draft. His conclusion in Minnesota seemed logical — occurring neither after some definitive dispute with management nor at the end of a wearied contract. This departure was as anticlimactic as the Timberwolves last season, as they finished in the dungeons of the Western Conference while KG rode the bench with "tendonitis." Tabula Rasa, KG takes a new step forward with the Celtics.
2. Existential Void. When a player goes to Boston, he does not ascend to a grander stage, but rather he is engulfed by a cosmic vortex of muscle encased in a stratosphere of HGH clouds and musk. From the synaptic firings in Peter Gammons' brain to the Red Sox cap worn by the 14-year-old girl in Newton, there's a poison going on. Boston is sports hell. When a player departs to Chicago, the world embraces him. In New York or LA, that player will be ogled and monitored like some Komodo Dragon exhibit at the Aquarium. But for any player to go to Boston means that he has committed to a light of arguing with ESPN at night over who stole the covers. As blatant as KG's existence is on Sports Illustrated covers and in Adidas commercials, it is now as though he doesn't exist at all.
3. Bitter Well-wishing. KG is That Dude. Here's to a million more triple-doubles in losing efforts. The Celtics could win the Eastern Conference. But winning the Eastern Conference doesn't mean shit. New Jersey is probably gonna be real good. With Jamal Magloire. And with David Wesley. Yeah, New Jersey is gonna be trouble for Boston. Don't sleep on New Jersey. Or the Knicks.
But seriously. I'm just happy that KG looks the happiest he's been for a while.
4. Concern for Legacy. The old conventional wisdom, partially perpetuated by me, was to explain Tim Duncan's championship success (compared to the KG dearth) by essentially text messaging, "DUNCAN HAD ALL THAT HELP HE HAD PARKER AND GINOBILI IMAGINE WHAT GARNETT COULD DO WITH HELP." New conventional wisdom is, KG, be careful what you wish for. See, now it's like, Duncan grabbed those two post-Admiral rings with only Manu and Tony P by his side. If Garnett can't capture the Larry O'Brien trophy rolling with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen—two proven alpha dog all-stars—then really what is his fairytale? KG's career to this point has been chalk full of built-in excuses: Starbury's departure, the death of Malik Sealy, the failure to resign Chauncey Billups, lost draft picks because of the Joe Smith scandal, the Cassell & Sprewell contract flare-ups. KG truly loved his Minnesota situation, because it came with those apologies. One could blame Kevin McHale or Glen Taylor or the heavens for all of Minnesota's struggles. But now you stand at centerstage. And now the failure to win a championship will fall squarely on your shoulders. Ask AI (that formerly rugged emblem of underdogged Philadelphia) how he likes his legacy dying a slow baby blue death.
5. Resuscitation. Time to exhale. The Target Center has taken on the character of an elephant graveyard for the past few seasons. Every corporate sponsor-entrusted ticket holder has been walking around with blue hair and clenched cheeks wondering when somebody would finally machete that tension. Is it strange to say that watching a team headed by Al Jefferson will be more enjoyable than watching that same team led by KG for the past two years? There is nothing more frustrating than watching a player who does everything. Those players are never good. Watching KG's teams was like watching daytime Emmy award winners. Sebastian Telfair and Corey Brewer running around recklessly is like Mr. Wizard. Again, the legacy issue. KG go forth, but if the Timberwolves win one more game than last year (33), you have some serious soul-searching to do.
6. Confusion. Kevin Garnett is on the Celtics. Tell me that even he doesn't think he looks weird wearing that shamrock green. "HAS THE BALANCE OF POWER SHIFTED TO THE EAST?!" No. But grown men walk the forests with no identities. No selfs.
7. Disdain. KG is the prime exemplar of this new genre of athlete that I like to call, the passive-aggressive toddlers (PATs). Donovan McNabb plays quarterback for that team. Shaq is center. These guys are masterful interview subjects, they keep the fans in their pocket and always deflect blame toward someone else—usually some invisible front office figure caricatured to look like Rich Uncle Pennybags. They never admit their hypocrisy, preferring to redefine what their definition of "is" is. Whereas guys like T.O., A-Rod, and Kobe just kind of bug us, the PATs are worse, because they portray an illusion of "taking the high road." With KG, I have documented all of these transgressions in more depth here. But a recent Slam Interview, in which he talks about being betrayed by the Timberwolves front office, dumped like a lousy boyfriend, blindsided ... how he never asked for a trade ... how saddened he was by Flip Saunders' departure ... all of that verbosity really reopened wounds for me. And whatever is coming from Garnett's mouth stinks something awful.
At the time of the coaching switch...KG called McHale taking over for Saunders a "breath of fresh air."
In an interview last year, ALSO with Slam's Lang Whitaker, KG practically begged to leave Minnesota.
Not to mention his famous "Thank God for opt-outs" muckraking at the trade deadline.
We're not that stupid, KG. We remember all the good times and we remember the petty chatter as well. It's gonna be a good year for you, but it will never feel the same.