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Garnett's return to Minnesota part storybook, part playbook

Fifteen-time All-Star brings more than nostalgia to Timberwolves

POSTED: Feb 26, 2015 2:30 AM ET
UPDATED: Feb 26, 2015 1:28 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Kevin Garnett's Long Awaited Return Home

After eight years, Kevin Garnett has returned back to where it all started.

— There was storybook in Kevin Garnett's emotional return to Minnesota Wednesday night, and then there was playbook.

There was the excitement that had built over six days, ever since the Timberwolves swung the deal with Brooklyn to bring back their most famous player. There was the vibe at sold-out Target Center, almost 20,000 strong, there to see Garnett with the home team for the first time since April 2007.

The first 12 seasons of his Hall of Fame career had been followed by 7 1/2 with Boston and Brooklyn that, for all their successes, never sat right with the folks who had raised the 7-footer from a Timberpup. Until Wednesday, anyway, when Garnett helped his new/old team claw back from an early 15-point hole to beat the Washington Wizards 97-77.

It was the biggest victory for Minnesota in a season of too damn few, the highlight not just of 2014-15 but in recent memory, stretching back through some Kevin Love statistical fireworks to the magnificence Garnett brought night in, night out. The game-ops crew was up to the occasion, pulling for the scoreboard an almost endless stream of what amounted to old home videos of the kid who arrived at 19 and left, unfulfilled, at 31.

There was a fat guy from way back when, reprising his act live, doffing his shirt and dancing in all his corpulent magnificence with "Welcome Home KG" painted on his barrel chest and gut. That broke up Garnett, who laughed and pointed to the joker high above the floor.

There were standing ovations before, during and after, enough to count with O's the way baseball fans flip over Clayton Kershaw K's. There was Garnett scoring just five points on 2-of-7 shooting but grabbing eight rebounds, blocking a couple shots and just roaming the court where it all had started for him. He didn't bound quite the same as he had then, basketball years being like dog years on his legs, and he is all-around less dangerous to opponents at 38 than he was at 28.

But he was back, he wore white and it seemed right. The tribute reel that played in the darkened arena between the fourth and final Wolves starters were introduced was a poignant time machine not just for Garnett but for those who have made the trek across 20 seasons with him. The stuff of serious goosebumps.

Garnett's Introduction

The Minnesota Timberwolves re-acquired Kevin Garnett this season and his first re-introduction with the team is a phenomenal moment.

"Obviously when I won in Boston it was a special time," Garnett said at night's end. "With my kids being born it was a special time for me. This is full circle. ... I've been back before [with other teams] and I've never paid attention to how much love is still here for me because I've been too busy being focused on the game.

"Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don't think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative."

That was the storybook of Garnett's return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn't participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he's getting to know on the fly.

Consider that, when we asked him afterward about Adreian Payne, the rookie power forward acquired two weeks ago from Atlanta who was making his third Wolves appearance, Garnett momentarily appeared stumped.

"That kid from Michigan State, right?" he said after several seconds. "You've just got to bear with me 'cause we don't use names in the locker room like you're using 'em. We use AP, AD, Wiggs -- like, everybody has a nickname in there. Very promising. Very high IQ basketball. The things I was talking to him about was about positioning and small things."

Through the Lens: KG First Basket

Take a super slow motion look at Kevin Garnett's first basket a member of the Timberwolves.

In fact, Garnett was in Payne's ear frequently when the two were on the side. When the rook was on the floor, Garnett's eyes were on him as if Payne were prey. Once, when he caught -- and stopped -- the ball out top, only to travel as he tried to dribble, Garnett winced and pantomimed to the others on the bench a quick perimeter pass that Payne could have and should have made.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of ... you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

"That's what I do," Garnett said. "I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show 'em what I was seeing. Just slow 'em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.

"The small things I'm telling 'em about -- getting their head up after a power dribble to see the jump shot, just certain little things, I don't want to bore you -- they can use in their own game. Other than that, the kids, you want them to be playing off of instincts, not so much thinking. Listen, they got here on talent and ability alone and I'm just trying to give 'em perspective. That's it. I'm also trying to infuse confidence on the bench and making sure we're doing things together as a team."

Said Payne, who was four years old when Garnett hit the NBA and Minnesota straight out of high school in 1995: "The things he said to me were just, 'You've got to move the ball more. Try to move the ball. Make the extra pass so the defense rotates.' I think he's gonna be real helpful. It's great that I've got somebody like him here to learn from."

Block of the Night - Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett stops Nene at the rim.

Ricky Rubio got a crash course in pick-and-roll coverage. Nikola Pekovic had Garnett engaged in certain defensive terminology, updating the verbiage from the veteran forward's previous stint under Saunders. Garnett kept the rookies, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, close much of the night. But even Kevin Martin had his turn in the learning seat.

"I was fortunate to be in that chair one time," Martin said. "KG, he's always into the game, he's always trying to teach whoever. It doesn't matter whether it's me in my 11th season or Lorenzo Brown in his first season."

Could it be called give-and-take? "He's been through it all, so it's mostly give," Martin said. "He'll listen off the court. On the court, KG's like a head coach out there with us, just always talking and keeping us engaged in the game."

At one point, Garnett talked to Martin about the screens he typically sets and the shooting guard stopped him. "I used to be on the opposite end of those screens," Martin said. 'I told him, 'You ain't got to tell me, I know what kinds of screens you set.' "

Pekovic had a quizzical expression during some of the tutorials, but then that's not an unusual look for him. The big man from Montenegro welcomed the input.

Wizards vs. Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett makes an emotional return to Minnesota as the Timberwolves defeat the Wizards 97-77.

"He described what you need to do to win, how everything's about winning," Pekovic said. "There's a lot of young guys here who have not been in that situation, they're just at the beginning of their craft. He just showed tonight how big energy, how big enthusiasm and everything you've got [has] to come out. We were down, like, 18-3 and he kept saying, 'You don't win games in the first quarter. You don't win games in the first quarter.' "

Sure enough, over the final 40 minutes, Minnesota outscored a weary and currently lost Wizards team 94-59.

"So it's just something big that only a guy who has such experience can come and help us," Pekovic said. "You can just feel more energy and experience around us. I think that is one of his missions here."

Saunders claims that, after two practices and one game, Garnett's intensity and standards have all the Wolves putting a bit more giddy-up in their get-alongs. "Defensively, those guys know they can't relax because they'll get called out, not only by us as coaches," he said. "When coaches call you out, they think you're picking on 'em. When your teammate calls you out, it's like family, they really respect that a lot."

And when those teammates respond, especially if they're raw enough to still be on training wheels, the satisfaction that comes from lessons learned might keep Garnett energized in that way teachers talk about.

"There's no question when KG looks at Wiggins and our young guys, he probably sees himself," Saunders said. "He knows what he went through as a 19-year old. I remember the first time he got scored on by [former Laker Cedric] Ceballos in the preseason and after the first time he scored on him, Ceballos said, 'You're not in high school anymore.' And [Garnett] remembered that. Every time he played against him, he went at him like there was no tomorrow."

So Garnett has gone from an aimless season in Brooklyn, blowing in David West's ear and feigning a bite at Joakim Noah, to chewing on the ears of Minnesota's young players. He'll spend more time sitting and watching the young Wolves' mistakes than most of their fans. Garnett might not have a lot of storybook nights like Wednesday in him, but his grasp of the game and two decades of both success and failure means he'll have plenty of playbook nights for them.

Considering all the yammering that will be going on, it might be better to call them audio books.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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