PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass all stepped onto the court to get shots up at the training facility before the rest of the team, with practice about to begin for Doc Rivers’ team.
This wasn’t 2011 in Boston, but a rainy Tuesday morning in January 2017 at a Clippers’ practice.
Garnett helped the Clippers at training camp earlier this season, offering tips to Blake Griffin, rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone and others. Four months later, “The Big Ticket” was back giving advice to the Clippers, providing pre-practice tips in the post to DeAndre Jordan, something that will happen more often going forward.
“He's hired in here as a consultant, so I'm sure he'll be in and out when it presents itself for him to work with our guys,” said assistant coach Mike Woodson. “I think when he's here, it's important for our bigs to take advantage of him being out here on the floor, because he brings so much to the table and has so much to offer for the game of basketball.”
As the three former Celtics caught up, laughed and reminisced about their times together in Boston, the only absence was the man who coached them. Rivers was out with an illness, but it didn’t take Garnett’s former coach being there to know the kind of impact the 15-time All-Star and former MVP provides and will provide moving forward every so often.
“I'm happy he's part of our family now,” Woodson said. “He's always been part of Doc's family, and I just think as we move forward it's going to help DJ a lot. I mean, all of our bigs. KG is going to be a Hall of Famer one day and I think all the experience that he's put out on the basketball floor, if these guys are willing to listen and learn, they will benefit in the long run."
“Amazing,” Jordan said, succinctly wrapping up what it’s like working with one of the NBA’s all-time greats, who retired earlier this year.
Most of Garnett’s time Tuesday before the Clippers gathered for practice was spent with Jordan, who embraced Garnett with a hug after the session ended.
“He’s a great spirit and a great basketball mind, a Hall of Fame guy, somebody I looked up to coming up and even playing the game,” Jordan said. “Any pointers he can give me and tips, it’s great. I just want to be a student whenever he’s here.”
It helps, as Woodson noted, that some similarities already exist between the two, particularly on defense.
While Jordan garners praise mostly for his athletic abilities, those who watch him closely know there’s much more than that, particularly when it comes to his knowledge defensively. Austin Rivers said Tuesday he had no idea before playing with him how high Jordan’s basketball IQ was, something Jazz head coach Quin Snyder also talks about nearly every time the two teams face off.
Often, Jordan will know the opponent’s play before it begins, which is why Austin described him as a quarterback and Snyder described him as a middle linebacker the way he deciphers play after play. He’ll then loudly voice what he sees, so the Clippers can get set in front of him.
Jordan credits Garnett as one of the main reasons he talks as often and as loudly as he does.
“From watching film of him and playing against him,” Jordan said. “The presence that he has on the game, on both ends of the floor, is something that’s contagious, and you want to take things from people like that, especially if that’s already in your personality.”
Then, there’s the other part of Garnett’s game that can’t be ignored.
“Oh, he’s intense,” Jordan said. “You can tell that he loves the game of basketball. He wants to teach people. He wants you to learn and he wants to give knowledge, and I want to receive all of it.”
For all those reasons, Jordan said he’s glad Garnett’s around. By the end of it, he assumes Garnett’s going to get tired of him.
Woodson said Garnett will continue to come and go now. He’s stayed in touch since his initial arrival at training camp, and he looks forward to seeing more of the former champion as the year continues.
“I'm just happy he's a part of the Clipper family,” Woodson said.