Posted May 31 2010 11:11AM
Whenever Kevin Garnett gets tired of thinking about what might have been, he can clear his head and think about ... what might have been.
The Boston Celtics forward really is at that pick-'em point, professionally. In two healthy postseasons since arriving in Boston in July 2007, Garnett has helped the Celtics to two NBA Finals. If they take the series with the Lakers, he will have gone 2-of-2 in championship rings, raising the what-if proposition about the Celtics' playoff exit a year ago when their defensive anchor was hobbled and headed toward knee surgery.
Then there's the bigger what-if, the one that brings up the question of how differently Garnett's career might have gone had he been with a team that had the ingredients to annually chase titles. In other words: How would Garnett be viewed among the game's all-timers had the Minnesota Timberwolves surrounded him for most of his 12 years with the quality help he has had in Boston for three?
When coach Doc Rivers reminds people that the Celtics' starting five is 7-0 in playoff series, even he is using shorthand to skip over 2009 and asterisk his team's championship pursuits as "with Garnett" vs. "without Garnett."
Garnett, however, kept his shields up when asked after a practice in Waltham, Mass., recently about the roads not taken.
"My road is what it is. I traveled it," Garnett told me. "Can't go back in time. Can't change that road. I have a greater sense of appreciation now, because of my journey. And I don't think too much into it, because it's really [wasted] energy to do that. There's no sense in doing that. It's not going to fix anything. It's not going to make anything better with me. I'm living in the moment and I'm enjoying it."
The closest the 15-year veteran has come to publicly second-guessing his career arc came after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when he was asked not about his own past but about LeBron James' future.
"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times bcause you can't get youth back. I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I'd have done it a little sooner."
Last week when I spoke to him, Garnett amended the "it" to "made some different decisions" because, let's remember, he moved from Minnesota to Boston in a trade. He never did become a free agent, twice signing extensions a full season before his contracts lapsed. Some would see that as loyalty and commitment, some as grabbing security when it was offered. It probably was a combination.
So Garnett would have had to decline a nine-figure extension and endure a whole season cluttered with the "where's next?" questions James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others faced in 2009-10. Or he would have had to fuss his way out of Minneapolis, demanding a trade, becoming the source of distraction himself. Neither would have suited him, though some say his seething silences at various times from 2005-07 made his feelings clear.
"My take on what I wanted in 'Sota and what, obviously, the management wanted were far two different things," Garnett said. "But it's all good."
Fact is, Minnesota management wanted a championship same as Garnett. It just wasn't as good at its job as he was at his. Don't forget, either, that Garnett's faith in teammates such as Joe Smith, Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell -- all of whom got fat contracts from the Wolves with his blessing -- proved to be unfounded. And his first taste of a Big Three -- when he, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell reached the West finals in 2004 -- had a shelf life of one year due to the amigos (health, decline and moods), not to the bosses.
The best player in basketball cannot possibly leave Cleveland this summer, a certain sports columnist wrote this weekend. Why? Because Kobe Bryant plays in Los Angeles.
That's not exactly a love letter from the Plain-Dealer's Bud Shaw toward LeBron James. Should James sign anywhere but the Cavaliers, Shaw's e-mail box figures to be gridlocked by local fans looking for someone to blame.
But Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry offered up the same assessment after getting pummeled by Bryant in the Western Conference finals: "He's the best player in basketball, and I don't think it's even close." And it would be interesting to see how voting for the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award would go if the ballot boxes closed right before The Finals, rather than before the playoffs.
There is a gap crying to be addressed, after all: Between the "real" MVP and The Finals MVP, three whole, essential rounds of the postseason often get neglected. Thus, the work of someone like Boston guard Rajon Rondo might go unrewarded (with hardware, anyway) if someone like Lamar Odom, for example, blows up in The Finals.
Right now, with Bryant's team back to defend its title and James' "team" sifting through free-agent strategies, it takes a little luster off the MVP of 82 Games trophy. Gotta think James would swap it out for a shot at a ring, too.
So the Celtics got center Kendrick Perkins back for their crucial Game 6 against Orlando and it paid off, the league's technical-foul review essentially rescinding the Magic into an early summer. Now comes the question: Which game of The Finals is Perkins likely to miss?
In sheer math alone, it seems unlikely that Perkins -- in the emotional, physical middle of Boston's defensive knack for eschewing double-teams inside -- can go very far without earning himself just one T. That's all it will take to trigger a one-game suspension, per NBA policy.
The seventh-year center had 15 technicals in 78 regular season games, then six more (wink-wink) in 17 playoff games. That's one T every 4.5 games, so barring a sweep, the Celtics could be without his services.
One of the referees from the Game 6 crew told me that Perkins was on his best behavior Friday night. At one point, Perkins said to the ref, "How come you guys have a problem with me?"
Countered the ref: "Perk, we don't have a problem with you. But sometimes we think you have a problem with us."
Rashard Lewis might seem a lousy character witness at the moment for a coach, given his underperformance against Boston across six games. The 6-foot-10 Orlando forward averaged just 8.2 points on 33.9 percent shooting in defeat. But Lewis blossomed from an overmatched high school kid into a 16.7 points-per-game scorer and 39.2 percent 3-point shooter, a two-time All-Star and the holder of a $118 million contract thanks in part to the seven years he spent with Dwane Casey at the start in Seattle.
"He's a great coach," Lewis said of Casey, the Sonics' longtime assistant who has had two interviews for the vacancy in Atlanta and is a candidate for other openings. "He's a gym rat. He made sure I worked on my game all the time. He knows the X's and O's. He was a great assistant coach when he did the scouting report. He's just one of those guys who eats, sleeps basketball."
When Seattle hired Nate McMillan as coach before the 2000-01 season, it basically was a coin-flip decision over Casey and the two functioned almost as co-coaches at times. Casey got his taste of coaching with Minnesota in 2005-06. He got fired in January 2007 with a 20-20 record. The Wolves went 12-30 the rest of that season and have gone 73-215 overall since Casey worked there.
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