By Chris Chesky/Murphy News Service
Kevin Garnett, now 38, will return next week to the team with which he grew to super stardom, but his role this time around will be a much different, more multi-faceted one.
He was the face of the Timberwolves franchise, “The Big Ticket,” from 1995 until he was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007. Now Garnett will put on a Timberwolves uniform again, but the symbolic hat he’ll wear will have to be bigger to accommodate not just “Big Ticket” but new words such as “Mentor” and “Clubhouse Leader.”
Garnett — the Timberwolves’ franchise leader in games played, minutes played, rebounds, steals, blocks and points scored — waived a no-trade clause in his contract this week to accept the deal that sent him from the Brooklyn Nets back to the Timberwolves in exchange for power forward Thaddeus Young.
The forward/sometimes center is not expected to play the role of the superstar or log as many minutes on this team as he did during his last tenure in Minnesota. This time, his role will be quite different, Flip Saunders said. Saunders is head coach and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves and coached Garnett during his first go-round here.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was upbeat in his statement: “It means a lot to me to have Kevin Garnett back on our team.
“I have great respect for Kevin as a person and a player,” Taylor added. “He was the first player we drafted after I bought the team and we got to see him develop into one of the best players in the world. Like our fans, I’m excited to be able to watch Kevin in a Timberwolves uniform once again.”
Saunders sees a new role for KG during his reincarnation here.
“The biggest thing [for Garnett] is to be able to set the culture and to be able to put us in a situation to help the young guys,” Saunders said. “We’ve got nine guys with two years or less experience. Sometimes the best way when you’ve got young players is to get them early. There’s no one better in terms of work ethic and preparation than KG. It’s a great way for them to learn.”
Garnett is now a seasoned veteran in the winding down period of a career in which he has played almost 50,000 minutes in the NBA and gained playoff experience after his title run in Boston in 2008. Playoff experience and veteran leadership are qualities the young Timberwolves team needs.
“The biggest thing with KG is his presence in the locker room,” Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton said. “I think coming here is going to be really great for the development of our young players.”
Garnett, who came into the league as a 19-year-old rookie, is expected to help the likes of 19-year-old rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine to learn the game and to speed up their development into the great players that their high draft-pick positions portended them to be.
“He came in as a kid, and now as an old man,” Saunders said. “We feel very good that we’re going to be able to deliver a product to our fans that’s going to be exciting, going to be competitive. We’re building something that can be lasting, and as both Milt and myself and Glen, we all thought that bringing KG was going to really help solidify that and facilitate the progress.”
Garnett did not come to this team with the hope it could win a championship soon, Saunders indicated, but, instead, came to the place where his career began to help lead the team to once again play meaningful games with an eye toward making the playoffs again.
“He had so many good years here that I think he wanted to end it here,” Saunders said. “He never wanted to leave here when he got traded. He didn’t like the way it ended here and he feels that maybe he can’t do what he did before, but he could still have a huge impact in where this organization goes.”
Garnett will make his return to the Timberwolves Wednesday, Feb. 25 against the Washington Wizards at Target Center.
Reporter Chris Chesky is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota