When you enter the NBA in 1995, making your debut on a court featuring three eventual NBA coaches and future St. Anthony's sage Bobby Hurley, and still manage to keep a career as continual franchise player some 17 years later? When your professional career makes its way through parts of six presidential terms and the shaming, Pitino-led resurgence, re-shaming, and eventually re-resurgence of the Boston Celtics? You tend to pick up a few plays along the way.
Kevin Garnett, in that profanity-laced mental Rolodex of his, has seen a lot of coaches and respective coaching calls come and go in his combined 50,871 regular-season and playoff minutes. So much so that, if the seven-second delay of the television mics will allow, you can hear him calling out the opponents' play while his Celtics settle into their relative line of scrimmage on defense.
And before (before! Not even following the nationally televised contest that saw KG doing this) Brooklyn's 102-97 win over Garnett's Celtic squad on Thursday, Nets coach Avery Johnson was whimsically whinin' with an Avery Johnson-sized smile about KG's tendency for knowing everything about basketball that there is to know. Loudly.
From Thursday night's pregame scrum, via Mike Mazzeo at ESPN New York:
"The funny thing is, I wish he would be quiet on the floor and not call out your plays," the Nets coach said in a bemused and complimentary tone Thursday morning prior to his team's nationally-televised contest against KG's Celtics. "He's seen so much. We'll call a play and he'll say, 'Joe [Johnson] is going over here and Deron [Williams] is going here.' It's not funny anymore, OK?
"As much as (Rajon) Rondo quarterbacks their offense, (KG) quarterbacks their defense. ... I like every now and then when we'll surprise him with something, and then maybe he'll look at the bench and curse the other coaches out, not me."
KG is right, and you are wrong Avery — it is still funny. Anything involving Kevin Garnett, just short of those tired hand claps and taunts that Kevin only seems to save for white dudes smaller than him, is funny.
And needed, even if "Joe" and "Deron" mentioned in the quote had played six whole games together under Avery prior to the quote referenced above.
The Celtics, as has been the case since Garnett joined the team in 2007, are typically pretty mediocre-to-awful on offense. It's true that the C's have improved this year to a top-10 ranking in offensive efficiency through the team's 4-5 start, and have dipped from first from 2011-12 to a borderline shocking 23rd overall on the other end of the court; but the other end of the court is and will always remain KG's domain. With a bow toward Scottie Pippen, a nod toward Tim Duncan, and a "get your stuff together, young man" clap towards Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett is the finest defensive player of the NBA's last two decades.
Because he's played nearly two decades, KG takes that mantle. And he also takes in your playbook, ingests it with the ferocity of a starved baby bird ingesting a delicious worm, and yells the particulars out to whoever wants to hear them after cleaning his beak.
THAT GOES DOUBLE FOR YOU LEANDRO BARBOSA.
Anticipating play calls or even stealing signs is nothing new in the NBA. Just as it is with a fastball in tight during a baseball stare down, or a run off tackle in football, the league still comes down to executing simple designs and hoping the talent wins out. Garnett, even with all his experience, isn't alone in seeing a play call from out of the corner of his eye.
That doesn't take away from his ability, or his impact. Or a Hall of Fame career that, somehow, is still going strong some 17 years after it tipped off in Minnesota.