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BROOKLYN—If the Brooklyn Nets are still playing in June, if the quest for the franchise’s first NBA title is still in sight, Tuesday night might be remembered as the most important game of the preseason for Kevin Garnett and Coach Jason Kidd.
It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the opponent was the Boston Celtics, the team for which KG played six seasons, leading them to the 2008 NBA title.
K.G. did not play in the Nets 82-80 win over the Celtics. The warrior who comes ready to battle every night, has done it that way for 18 seasons, could not bring himself to sit on the bench and watch while others fought his battle.
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“It wasn’t my decision, so that’s where I’m going to leave that,” said Garnett of his night off. “I am trying to be as positive as I can be.”
This is the Jason Kidd Plan, the one he has been trying to sell Garnett since Day One.
It was just last season that Kidd was playing in his 19th and final NBA season. He knows the grind of the season, knows that back-to-back games are especially grueling.
Kidd saw firsthand what we all saw by the end of last season: When the Knicks ousted the Celtics in a first-round playoff series, Garnett and Paul Pierce had little left in the tank and little lift in their legs.
So ‘The Kidd Plan,’ as we shall call it, is the rookie coach’s strategy to limit Garnett’s minutes in the second of back-to-back games.
“He’s seen the plan,” said Kidd. “There’s always going to be times of agreement or disagreement. We have to find what makes sense. And this makes sense, to give him the night off.”
It is a gutsy move by the rookie coach, telling his star player - the one Jason Terry said is the heart and soul of this team - that K.G. will play fewer minutes this season because it should give the team its best chance of winning in June.
Of course, Kidd will have a much tougher time selling K.G. on a night off during the regular season. The compromise likely will be reduced minutes in the second of back-to-back games.
Kidd’s hope is that come June, Kidd’s 37-year-old future Hall of Famer will be a rested and ready force.
With that in mind, this wasn’t only an important game for Garnett. It was important for Kidd, who must build a bond of trust with KG if the Nets are going to contend for their first ever NBA title.
For now, Kidd’s successful NBA career, and his respected basketball mind, have given him the cache to sit a player of KG’s stature.
It is, however, an uneasy alliance.
“This is not, uh, up to me, and I’m being positive,” said Garnett. “I’m making sure that I’m trying to listen and go with the plan, the plan that was laid out for me and being positive with that.”
“So I’m trusting Jason in what he has in store for myself.”
Kidd has brought along Garnett, and all of his veterans, slowly this preseason.
He played KG, Pierce, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson 12:29 in the first game. KG got 11:17 in the second game while Pierce and Lopez logged 13:42.
Kidd gave Pierce Monday night off. Garnett went 14:56. Pierce played 27 minutes against the Celtics. KG will not.
“We both respect each other,” said Kidd. “He does trust me. I was just in that seat, what were you guys saying, for maybe the last 10 years. Getting an older player to understand I’m going to need him to sit out. Yes, he doesn’t want to.”
“But we’ll sit down and talk about it and we’ll come out with answers. Sometimes he might get the benefit of the doubt and sometimes he doesn’t. He does trust me and that’s the starting point.”
The first test of that trust came Tuesday night. At 6:19, Garnett, wearing a long sleeve white T-shirt, black Brooklyn Nets shorts and white athletic socks, sat down on the carpet in the Nets locker room and studied a tape of a recent Celtics-Knicks game.
When Jared Sullinger got the ball in the low post, Garnett said he would go right, ‘Right hook.”
Sure enough Sullinger put up a right hook.
“Know your opponent,” Garnett said to the screen.
This might have been an off day, but K.G. wouldn’t rest.
“Today in shootaround I told him, ‘No running,”’ said Kidd. “He’s running to get back on defense.”
It is hard to fathom, Garnett’s passion for the game. He had won every award, he has a championship ring, he has the respect of every teammate.
Yet he is not satisfied.
“I just feel like every day that you have to better your craft every chance we come in here and work as a group, I’d like be a part of that,” said Garnett.
“You just don’t get to 18 years and show up and think, ‘Tada!’ I’m very funny when it comes to critiquing myself. I watch a lot of film of myself as well as opponents.”
“But more importantly I’m very funny about coming in, getting my work in, making sure I’m sharp.”
No, a night off is not how Garnett is wired. It’s like asking the cat not to play with the mouse.
As KG finished up an interview in the 76ers visiting locker room Monday night, he was asked about playing alongside Lopez.
“The first thing Jason said to me is, ‘Brook gets nothing easy,'"said Garnett.
Really? That was the first item on Kidd’s agenda when he laid out for KG his vision of the season?
“He talked about the back to backs,” acknowledged Garnett, breaking up reporters. “Then he talked about Brook.”
If The Kidd Plan is embraced by KG, it will be talked about as one of the great coaching moves of the season.
If it doesn’t, it’s going to take a heckuva Plan B to get the Nets to the promised land.
Tuesday night Garnett sat and Kidd coached. The success of the season might very well hang on both men making The Kidd Plan work.