IRVINE, Calif. – Jamal Crawford couldn’t concentrate.
As the Clippers guard went through interviews following Thursday’s training camp practice, his eyes drifted toward the court, where Blake Griffin worked 1-on-1 with a 15-time All-Star who had just announced his retirement less than a week ago in Minnesota.
“You see Kevin Garnett here,” Crawford said. “I couldn’t stop watching him, to be honest with you. Like, he’s one of my 10 favorite players ever. I’m watching him now, as I talk to you guys. It’s unbelievable.”
It doesn’t take much connecting the dots to see why Garnett might want to help out this team, in particular.
Garnett won a title with Clippers head coach Doc Rivers and forward Paul Pierce in Boston in 2008, spending six years alongside the two with the Celtics. Clippers assistant coach Armond Hill was an assistant on Rivers’ staff at that time, and Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell played for Rivers’ Celtics during that championship season.
Rivers said even now he’s still learning from Garnett, who just ended his career ninth in rebounding and 17th in scoring in NBA history.
“KG was phenomenal today,” Rivers said. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great.”
Not just for the rookies, either.
Garnett received praise for how much he helped guide Timberwolves star big man Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, and part of Garnett’s work Thursday afternoon was giving tips to Clippers rookie draft picks Diamond Stone and Brice Johnson.
But the teaching didn’t stop there. Rivers said before practice Garnett helped out DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. Then, immediately after practice ended, Garnett pulled Griffin to the side to work with him.
And Griffin was all ears soaking in the advice, which Stone noticed.
To see how much Griffin cared about what Garnett was saying showed the rookie how dedicated Griffin was to getting better, and it also showed the magnitude and significance of getting to absorb advice from someone like Garnett.
“KG’s a great teacher,” Stone said. “He’s really passionate about the game, as everybody knows, but just to be able to hear him and talk to him about different tricks, different ways you can get open, different ways you can get your teammates open, I’m just soaking it all in.”
Rivers said while most people know Garnett as a great player, he knows him as a great teacher.
And while it might surprise Rivers if Garnett ended up coaching, it wouldn’t surprise him if Garnett ended up teaching in some form or fashion as he was Thursday with the Clippers, in what Rivers described as an organic fashion.
“I just told him to come around and figure it out,” Rivers said. “’Do whatever you want,’ and whatever he does, I’m good with. I do think he can have a very positive impact on us.”
Crawford found that out immediately. He called Garnett one of the best to ever play the game and said the forward has “a certain aura about him.” Garnett, Crawford said, demands respect the minute he walks into the room.
Knowing how taken aback he was, Crawford can’t imagine what that must’ve meant for the rookies.
“Every second you’re around a guy like that, you’re listening to every single thing he’s saying,” Crawford said. “You’re a sponge. You’re like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Kevin Garnett… And for him to be here and give those guys that kind of knowledge, I think that speaks volumes about him as well.”
If anyone knows what Garnett’s like, it’s the player he won a title with and played alongside for years. Pierce called Garnett one of the greatest players to play the game, and he said anyone can learn from an all-time great.
“He’s been a major inspiration in this league for a long time,” Pierce said. “He has so much to share.”
And all the Clippers’ big men, from rookies to All-NBA superstars, are paying attention.
“When he talks,” Pierce said, “you want to listen.”