We’ve all noticed Kevin Garnett’s increased production, which has been consistent and relentless since the All-Star break as the final year in his contract winds down. If you believe Garnett has increased his focus or intensity because this is a contract year, I have a time machine I’d love to sell you. He has more than 291 million reasons not to chase his next contract, and winning, rather than anything else, has always been the treat Garnett craves.
NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner reported Friday that a league source who doubles as Garnett’s friend believes Garnett is making this last push as a goodbye to the NBA world. Yes, according to this friend, Garnett is considering retirement after the 2012 playoffs subside.
At least one league source who knows Garnett well thinks a proud, strong exit and, as they say in show biz, a chance to leave ‘em wanting more might be his plan. “I think that’s what we’ve been seeing in these playoffs,” the friend of Garnett said. “The way he’s been playing, it’s like he wants to go out on his terms.”
There’s nothing concrete here, nothing to definitively fear if you’re a Garnett fan hoping, praying he returns to the Celtics next season to provide more of his outside jump shots and unrivaled pick-and-roll defense. But Aschburner, who after covering Garnett for many years back in their Minnesota days knows KG as well as any reporter, makes many solid points about why Garnett might not want to stick around in Boston, or leave to go anywhere else.
The only certainty in Boston following this season is change. Sure, Garnett and Ray Allen could theoretically return next season on smaller contracts and the Big Three might remain intact. But even that would be a band-aid rather than a plan, a bridge from the Celtics’ present situation as borderline-contenders into whichever direction Danny Ainge intends to take the organization in the future. The Celtics are going to be built around Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley one day. The days of the Big Three are numbered, maybe by the number two, which is how many more times the Miami Heat must defeat the Celtics to dispatch them from this year’s postseason.
Garnett doesn’t like change, writes Aschburner, and he isn’t likely to leave the Celtics for another team — even if every team in the NBA has room for a seven-footer with deadly touch out to 20 feet and a magical understanding of defensive schemes.
Signing elsewhere? There are no guarantees of a championship, a Finals trip or even a robust playoff run. In Boston, what was conceived as a three-year window of opportunity got pushed out to five, but he would have no such time assurances at his next stop.
Here’s another factor: Those familiar with him know how much Garnett loathes change. It was clear in his reactions to the constant roster-churnings back in Minnesota that, with the exception of 2004, maxed out his Timberwolves days with chronic first-round exits. He almost whiffed on the trade to Boston — then just 31, he had to be sold on that uprooting — and he has been irritated by the trade rumors that have cropped up more recently, threatening to rock his world anew.
The notion that Garnett is likely to play for the Celtics or no team at all isn’t one pushed only by Aschburner. Hall of Fame reporter Jackie MacMullan shared during CSNNE’s pregame coverage before Game 2 that Doc Rivers said as much to her. If Garnett plays next year, said Rivers, it will almost certainly be with the Celtics.
But does Garnett want to become part of the rebuilding process that Ainge will inevitably lead in the coming years? Does he want to nurture young talent and perhaps play a smaller role as his legs, which have to go at some point even after his revival this season, betray him?
For as many reasons as Garnett has to return next season — he can obviously still help the Celtics, or any other team, and he would certainly love a ring to match the one he earned in 2008 — this could be it.
This could very well be the Big Three’s last run and these could be Garnett’s final days. Let’s enjoy this, and let’s hope for an improbable series comeback to extend Boston’s playoff stay, to put off the many questions that will need to be answered whenever this season concludes.