Celtics preaching patience for Garnett
There’s not a lot that can faze Kevin Garnett(notes). On the court, he is the embodiment of the motivated, ultra-intense – some might say maniacal – player, afraid of no one, certainly, none of his NBA contemporaries. When healthy, there is no better defensive player.
But Garnett, for the first time in his NBA career, was not healthy for an extended period in 2008-09, missing 25 games and all of the playoffs because of what the Celtics called a right knee strain. It was the Mother of All Strains – there were bone spurs which needed to be removed in an operation. For Garnett, whose hallmark over his first 13 years was his durability, it was his first experience with serious surgery and the attendant rehabilitation.
Asked if he felt scared by the whole prospect, Garnett said, “no. But the surgery part was. When you get opened up, you’re putting trust in people you have no idea about. Every situation is different when it comes to surgery – you hope for the best – but anything can happen.
“But I am a person who manifests good things. And I just kept manifesting nothing but good things to have a successful surgery. The doctor did a great job and everything up to now has been perfect.”
Physically, Garnett is right where he and the Celtics want him to be, midway through the exhibition season. “When he’s fresh, he’s amazing,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. Garnett was ready for the opening of training camp and he has yet to sit out a practice, although Rivers has had to rest Garnett, lest the crazed forward overdo it.
“I’ve taken him out of practices, which is tough, because he has to break through a wall of sorts,’’ Rivers said. “But we need his legs. Does he accept it? No, he doesn’t accept anything. But that is a good thing. Rasheed [Wallace] has been good for him. I heard him say, ‘Kevin, we’re not going to win it tonight.’ And that was at a practice. Kevin was mad. He was watching and saying all these things. It’s hard for him. He starts up here (Rivers raising his hand to the sky). And he keeps going up here.”
No one can accuse Rivers of abusing or misusing Garnett in terms of minutes played. This season, Garnett, who turned 33 last May 19, will surpass 40,000 career minutes played. Only two other active NBA players, Jason Kidd(notes) and Shaquille O’Neal(notes), have logged more. Kidd is 36. Shaq is 37. But in his two years in Boston, Garnett has averaged fewer minutes per game than at any time since he was a 19-year-old rookie in Minnesota in the 1995-96 season. Last season, he averaged only 31.1 minutes a game.
While it’s hard to quibble with the results in Boston the last two years – 66 wins and an NBA title in 2007-08 and 62 wins in 2008-09 – Garnett sees “rest” as a four-letter word. Intuitively, of course, he understands he can’t be Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell and log 48 minutes a game. But that doesn’t mean he likes to sit out, either, and he and Rivers are trying to reach an agreement as to how much the perennial All-Star will be used. Rivers will get the last word. Garnett will get in a few words – actually, lots of them.
“As a person who takes a lot of pride in working hard, I’ve never in the past heard the word ‘rest’ a lot,” he said. “From my first years in the league, working with [Kevin] McHale, he always taught us – me and Steph [Marbury], we were the two honor students – that if you want go get better, you have to work. And I have never forgotten that. And that has always been in the back of my head.
“Every time I step on the court, every time I pick up a basketball, the reason is to improve,’’ Garnett went on. “I’m like one of those old cats at the park who have a certain way about how they do stuff. When I get on the court, I work hard. And sometimes I feel Doc is tearing me back, not from not necessarily getting better, but from the workload. It’s something I have to understand. At first, I thought he was saying, ‘Hey, sit down. Get some rest.’ There’s that word again. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of listening to him and finding out what he wants from me. I’d do anything for Doc and he knows that. I’d run through a brick wall if he wants me to. He tends to say, ‘Hey, I’ll tell you when I want you do that.’ It’s about me understanding what he wants.’’’
Rivers actually thinks he can get Garnett even more rest this season with the addition of Wallace and the expected, ongoing improvement of Glen Davis(notes). He says the only thing missing from Garnett’s repertoire right now is the forward’s trademark explosiveness. “It’s like selective now, not every time,’’ Rivers said. “But it’s still training camp.’’
Said Garnett of his on-again, off-again oomph, “It’s gonna come. Guys are holding me up to perfect standards, or close to them, and I love that. It’ll come. I’ve always taken more of a defensive mindset and a lot of my energy comes from the defensive end. If I feel I have a mismatch in the post, I’ll do that. He [Rivers] wants me to be a lot more aggressive offensively and a lot of my energy is tiered to the defensive end. It’s about balance. I’ll get it. I’m not concerned about that. As long as I understand the defensive schemes, I’ll be fine. Offense is repetition.”
The Celtics play back-to-back exhibition games Tuesday and Wednesday and Garnett will miss one of them. (The ever-cagey Rivers won’t divulge which one.) He played in the first three exhibition games, logging a shade more than 13 minutes in the Oct. 7 opener and just under 22 minutes in each of the next two games. At practices, he looks like the K.G. of old, barking out orders on the defensive end while continuing to work on his perimeter game with extra shooting.
That hasn’t changed. What has changed for Garnett is how he approached his 15th NBA season, the first one where he had to spend the summer recovering from an injury. He still felt the rush he always feels when camp started, when he could go against his teammates.
“But this past summer, I had to deal with something different – patience,’’ he said. “I am a player who, when I work, I go at full throttle. When you’re nursing an injury, you have to understand it, the status of the injury, and as long as you’re getting better and stronger, you just have to understand all the stages [of recovery]. I never had to do that before and that was hard for me to come to grips with. But the body speaks and you have to listen. As opposed to years past, this time around, I was more of a student to my body.”
Right now, the body looks fine to all concerned. The mind is where it’s always been. The Celtics can only hope that all of this translates into yet another productive year for Garnett. One thing’s clear: His teammates are happy to have him back, verbal abuse and all.
“We got a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players to ever play the game,’’ Paul Pierce said. “Who wouldn’t want that guy on the court?”