Even at 39 years old, Kevin Garnett can still play. In fact, Flip Saunders says the future Hall-of-Famer will start at power forward next season. But the Minnesota Timberwolves still didn’t bring their only cornerstone in franchise history back for his on-court exploits.
Garnett won’t stuff the stat sheet the way he did as a perennial MVP candidate in the early-to-mid 2000s, and won’t quite replicate his all-encompassing impact during his Boston Celtics heyday, either. The Timberwolves’ all-time leader in games, points, rebounds, assists, and endless other statistics still has immense value in the twilight of his career, though, and proved it immediately upon being traded back to Minnesota last February.
In a Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland, Saunders clarified and expanded on the famous story of Garnett ripping into hulking Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic for not getting back on defense – during his first practice with the team in eight years.
Lowe: One of the best stories going through the grapevine in Vegas was that at some practice, KG ripped into Pek for not getting back on defense — hit him with “motherfucker” and everything. And no one had ever seen anyone talk to Pek like that, because he’s Pek and he’s scary. Do you remember that?
Saunders: That happened during the season, in his very first practice with us. People were talking about it in Vegas, because KG came out and did a shootaround with us there, and people couldn’t believe how energetic he was. And we said, “Well, you should have seen him when he ‘motherfucked’ Pek because he didn’t get back on defense during a dummy drill.” No one had ever seen that with Pek.
That’s KG. He always said that living up to his contract meant giving everything he had, in practices and games. He expects that from everyone on the team. A guy like Pek has never been pushed.
Lowe: How did Pek react?
Saunders: He put his damn head down and started running fast. That’s the thing about KG: He’s running back faster than anyone. If a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest power forwards ever, is doing that at 38, how can you not do it?
Sounds about right.
Garnett is consistently lauded as one of the best teammates the league has ever seen. And while his incredible ability and rare IQ obviously account for a portion of that status, what does more than anything else are is wholly unique merit as a leader.
Why is Garnett such a beloved figure among his teammates? That he’s equally capable of a profanity-laced tirade like the one described above, as he is more nuanced guidance of a future star. And of course, it helps that KG backs up his maniacal, yet nurturing style of stewardship with drive and work ethic that remains peerless as he approaches a record-tying 21st NBA season.