Veteran to make Minnesota debut Wednesday
By RICK SOLEM
It’s hard to fight the hate in all the things that led up to Kevin Garnett reuniting with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
If you look no further than the draft-day deal that landed the 38-year-old back in Minnesota, it’s not such a bad thing – albeit a bit selfish for both the team and the player.
Garnett should never play a minute and definitely shouldn’t be re-signed by the team, wasting cap space on what should be used for players with futures. OK, maybe start him in his first game back Wednesday to hear the roar, then sit him down forever. He does sell tickets – even to the wrong game – and that looks good for GM/coach Flip Saunders, who can do no wrong, since he’s his own boss.
As a last-minute deal, taken in a vacuum, it’s fine. Thaddeus Young was leaving the team after the season, anyway. No loss there.
And Garnett can help this roster evolve after Minnesota made deals to bring in last year’s No. 1-overall pick, Anthony Bennett, and rookie Adreian Payne out of Michigan State.
Young is a lesser version of the defenseless Kevin Love. He’s a hustler that’s never been on a good team – he came from the Philadelphia 76ers mind you. The 26-year-old has been around, but he’s not exactly bringing the winning mentality.
Garnett, on the other hand, all he cares about is working hard and winning. He’s won a title with the Boston Celtics. He’s taken the Timberwolves as far as they’ve ever been in the playoffs – the Western Conference Finals in 2004, when he won the MVP. He’s also led the team to its only playoff appearances (eight in all).
KG can mold Bennett (21) and Payne (24) into NBA players, maybe even stars. He can do the same for sophomore center Gorgui Dieng (25) and probably do Nikola Pekovic (29) some good, as well – not to mention Shabazz Muhammad (22) and whoever else is left on the team.
None of those guys know much about big-man defense – or winning for that matter. Garnett can show them all the tricks that made him a dominant and probably annoying defender throughout his career.
So, great, sentiment, experience and a winning mentality are here. But, if you look at the timeline leading up to this deal, you wonder if Saunders would have the audacity to fire himself.
The Timberwolves are 11-42 coming out of the all-star break. If you want to excuse Saunders for trading Miami’s first-round pick next year for Young, go ahead. Minnesota had vets Kevin Martin and Pekovic to compliment Ricky Rubio at point guard – someone they were trying to make happy to re-sign, which happened Nov. 1. And they were bringing in Andrew Wiggins, Bennett and others to try and make a run at the playoffs.
If you want to believe that squad could make the playoffs, then, fine, you trade the pick for Young, who is just a lesser version of Love.
But once the Timberwolves started to free fall – Rubio injured right after the season began, followed by long injury stints from Martin and Pekovic – you have to wonder why he wasn’t trading anyone for anything.
While Pekovic’s $12 million a year through 2018 is untradable, Martin could have maybe been sent away (though his contract isn’t great either, around $7 million through 2017). He has been averaging 20.3 points a game since coming back Jan. 28 (though he’s shooting just 43% from the floor and 32% from beyond the arc). So, maybe he couldn’t be traded, either.
But Gary Neal could have easily been sent for a second-round pick. Maybe Chase Budinger, though he’s signed for $5 million through next season.
The problem with all these players, they’re horrible. So, maybe Flip couldn’t flip them, but Young is good and it’s hard to believe a contender wouldn’t give up an expiring deal and a second-round pick for him. It’s mind-boggling, in fact.
And, worse than getting nothing for him except some sentiment, there is talk of re-signing Garnett for two more seasons. What? If that happens, Saunders should definitely be firing himself.
It’s fine if Garnett wants to be an assistant coach – hell, at this point, he may as well take over for Saunders as the head coach and GM – and become a part owner. But it, again, makes no sense to give up a roster spot and cap space on a player who is either not going to play or going to take precious minutes away from guys like Bennett, Payne and others who need to be learning on the court.
The Milwaukee Bucks tried the sentiment to an extent last season bringing in Milwaukee native Caron Butler. And, as soon as it was apparent he wasn’t going to get minutes, he started to become a headache. Of course, Garnett isn’t going to become a headache for the Timberwolves – right? – but that still doesn’t make it right to give him a roster spot and eat cap space. Minnesota has Pekovic for that.
Sign Garnett to a ridiculously lavish assistant coaching job, give him a piece of the team and start the rebuilding process already. It’s been a decade.