For the better part of an afternoon, it felt as if Kevin Garnett was rather upset about the way his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves ended. Then Kevin Garnett went and explained his way out of that frustration with a much-needed, talkative, update. For someone who talks quite a bit, and for someone for whom talking is now a way to pull in the checks twice a month, KG had heretofore remained somewhat mum on the subject of his departure from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016.
On the surface, the parting ways made a lot of sense to the informed outsider. Garnett routinely shot down queries about his interest in a coaching or front office capacity, though he made his interest in owning a team quite known. With the Wolves owned since the early 1990s by Glen Taylor and not currently for sale, KG had little chance to work his way into an ownership role with the club as he saw fit upon retiring for good as a player in 2016.
The Timberwolves, on their end of things, reacted in part to the tragic and too early passing of coach and president Flip Saunders by (after a year letting longtime Timberwolves player and coach Sam Mitchell run the coaching show) by hiring new coach and president Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden to run the proceedings, leaving Garnett figuratively out in the cold. In spite of his relationship with Thibs, who won a title in Boston with Garnett in 2008.
Garnett bides his time on TNT these days, and discussed his Minnesota departure recently with Adi Joseph at USA Today:
It seemed like it was perfect for how Flip organized and put it together and designed it. Obviously when he left us, Glen saw differently and wanted to go a different way. I’ve always said I wanted to be a part of an organization that is about winning more progressively, in that direction. Minnesota seemed like a perfect fit for that. That has changed. I don’t see myself doing that any time soon, but that still is a goal of mine. I would like to be part of an organization that is part of winning, that I can help the young guys progress. So that’s still a dream but not a priority at this point.
Is that disappointing for you, that it fell apart? Obviously, Flip’s death was a huge tragedy, but beyond that, seeing that kind of dream in that market that loved you so much, seeing that become less of a reality, is that a disappointment?
A little bit. A little bit. To say Debbie Downer is an understatement. It was a huge disappointment and one that showed me the true Glen Taylor. It showed me how he really feels. When this guy got the team, it was worth $90 million. When I left it, it was worth somewhere in the $400 (millions). That was never taken into account in my value or none of that. I guess I served my purpose, and I was on to the next. So it’s all good. So it’s all good. I’m moving on and taking my ball and playing somewhere else. (Laughs.)
Later on Tuesday, Garnett spoke with the Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski in a way that didn’t nearly as nasty an aftertaste:
“I love those young guys,” Garnett said, referring to the Wolves’ young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine that he mentored in his final season. “I told Thibs I want to work with him, but obviously me and Glen don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and that’s how it’s going to be.”
Garnett envisioned having a large role in the decision-making process, particularly when it came to the move to fire GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell — Garnett’s close friend — after last season.
KG’s 2016 departure isn’t all that’s upsetting the future Hall of Famer. In his talk with Krawczynski he relays how upset he was that the Wolves did not raise a banner in the team’s arena in honor of their longtime coach, on the night Minnesota celebrated his legacy:
“I thought he wasn’t celebrated the proper way. You have high school banners, you have (expletive) hockey banners (hanging in the rafters). You couldn’t put a Flip banner in Target Center, some place that we helped build? … We established that market. I helped grow that with him. You can’t put him in the (rafters)?”
Garnett did team with Saunders to establish the Wolves as a viable NBA franchise, just as much as Taylor established Minnesota as a viable NBA market upon his decision to purchase the club in 1994, saving it from buyers from New Orleans. The Timberwolves are under no obligation to unfurl a banner in Saunders’ honor, but it’s more than a little surprising that they do not (the Wolves declined to comment to the AP).
What’s tougher to make do with is KG’s half-joking assertion that he be allowed some team ownership inroads due to how much the Wolves were valued when he was drafted, vs. when he was dealt from the team in 2007, or how the squad was doing upon his 2016 retirement.
Taking into account the full value of an entire team is always a bit of a stretch. If the Los Angeles Lakers were worth $150 million when the franchise drafted Derek Fisher in 1996, it shouldn’t owe him an ownership stake upon his 2015 retirement just because Fisher contributed 13 seasons and over 1200 games as a Laker for a club now worth billions.
Kobe (via an outrageous contract) might have an argument, though, and that’s where KG comes in.
If a player or players help raise the value of a franchise by a significant or even slim margin, they have to feel some sense of frustration when watching franchises sold for hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars with no bonus payoff of their own. No cut at all for the profit driven by their hard work. Then again, a franchise’s increase in value should be reflected in the revenue sharing modeled as determined by the collective bargaining agreement put together by the owners and the league’s players. The more these big franchises make, the larger the pie and the larger the players’ take.
To that end, you spy the reported $63 million Derek Fisher made during his playing career, half of which was supplied by the Lakers, with a collection of other contracts (in-prime, with the Warriors, post-prime with a series of teams) that saw Fisher cash in on the advancements he had made under contract with the Lakers, via a free agent contract.
Taylor’s supporters will point to the nearly $336 million Kevin Garnett made as a player, much of it supplied by the Timberwolves franchise that Garnett put on his back for over a decade.
Kevin Garnett clearly wasn’t owed a stake in the Wolves upon his retirement, but the chance to purchase one is another story altogether.
To the same outsider, the simplified parting of ways between he and Taylor’s team almost looks brusque upon further reflection. There was no room in Minnesota for an entry-level, let’s figure out where we stand, here, this TV-crap is embarrassing, partnership?
Bottom line is KG worked strictly with Flip in arranging things and the Wolves couldn't have anticipated Flip's passing. Changed everything
— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) April 18, 2017
Sam Mitchell helped raise Kevin Garnett as a pro, and he remains one of the more respected figures in the NBA. He’s also flamed out at two stops as a head coach, the Wolves had enough to fire him with; and though Tom Thibodeau wasn’t extraordinarily successful in his first year with Minnesota, there was movement on Thibodeau’s team. Whether or not that was up to internal development or Thibodeau’s work or some combination of the two will be up to history to decide, as will the relative merits of Flip Saunders’ hand-picked general manager (the since-dismissed Milt Newton) versus former Jazz and Knicks top executive Scott Layden.
All respected (if not always understanding) folk that, despite some misgivings, would be better off breaking bread around each other.
Garnett and the Wolves are still in the early stages, as KG isn’t even a year removed from his official retirement date. The pups that he helped mentor in 2015-16 – Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine – will hopefully remain in Minneapolis for however long it takes a re-association to happen.
Happen it should.
Larry Bird had to wait a decade until he was able to take over his hometown NBA team, and even then he worked alongside a room full of veteran executives. Isiah Thomas had to wait a season before his first shot in Toronto, Michael Jordan went through one ill-fated ownership and president run with Washington before Charlotte gave him a home seven years after he left the Bulls, and Magic Johnson has only just now found NBA happiness in his attempt to resurrect the Los Angeles Lakers – a quarter-century after his first retirement as a player, and after years of bouncing around job titles and small financial stakes (from slim to none) in the Lakers trust.
If anything, Kevin Garnett seems perfectly ebullient in his talks with both USA Today and the Associated Press. Good thing, because while the Timberwolves are hardly beholden to the only superstar the club has ever had, it would be good for both franchise and franchise player to have a better sense of where they’re coming from, and why they’re not working together anymore.
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