Kevin Garnett was a lanky 19-year-old when he started his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995. By the time he left the club in an offseason trade to the Boston Celtics in July, he had developed into one of the NBA’s elite forwards.
Garnett, the heart and soul of the Minnesota franchise for more than a decade, meets his old team for the first time when the Celtics host the Timberwolves on Friday in a matchup pitting the best and worst teams in the NBA.
While Garnett has developed a reputation as one of the game’s most intense and passionate players, he’s not getting too worked up about his first game against Minnesota - the team for which he played 12 seasons, earned 10 All-Star selections and won the league’s MVP award in 2003-04.
“I want y’all to understand something,” Garnett told the Celtics’ official Web site. “A lot of the guys I played with in Minnesota are not even on this team. It’s like a brand-new team. The personnel, the trainers and people behind the scenes are probably a little more important than some of the people who are on the court.”
Garnett, the leading vote-getter for this year’s All-Star game, will return to Minnesota for the first time since the trade when the Celtics visit the Timberwolves on Feb. 8.
“I thank the (Minnesota) fans for being behind me,” Garnett said. “Minnesota knows they have a special place in my heart when it comes to the people there. That’s my connection there and it will always be a connection. But right now I’m in Boston and I’m enjoying it.”
The Timberwolves have a different look without their franchise leader in games played, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. The trade that sent Garnett to Boston brought five former Celtics to Minnesota, headlined by 6-foot-10 forward Al Jefferson.
Those young players have yet to make a big difference for the Timberwolves (7-34), who are languishing with the league’s worst record.
Boston, on the other hand, has flourished. The Celtics (33-7) opened the season 29-3 for the best start in the franchise’s storied history, and have already built a large lead in the Atlantic Division.
That lead shrank to 11 games on Wednesday night, when Boston lost 114-112 to second-place Toronto despite 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists from Garnett. The Celtics lead the league in field-goal percentage defense at 41.9, but the Raptors shot 58.0 percent - including 15-for-21 (71.4 percent) from 3-point range - to snap Boston’s three-game win streak.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, have won back-to-back games for the first time this season, and are seeking their first three-game run in more than a year. They last won three consecutive games Jan. 12-15, 2007 - about a week before firing then-coach Dwane Casey and giving the job to current coach Randy Wittman.
“I really believe our team’s beginning to grow a little bit,” Wittman said. “I see guys now that don’t have the look of who’s going to bail us out or who’s going to take the big shot?”
Jefferson has been taking most of the big shots, averaging 24.8 points and 12.5 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the field in his last six games. He had a career-high 39 points and added 15 rebounds in Wednesday’s 117-107 victory over Pacific Division-leading Phoenix.
“It’s time now,” said Jefferson, who spent the first three seasons of his career with Boston. “It’s time to start turning this thing around and start building for next year.”
Like Garnett, however, Jefferson has downplayed the significance of playing his former club.
“I look at Boston like I look at Phoenix,” he said. “Just another game.”