After a remarkable 21-year career, Kevin Garnett retires

Another NBA legend who has been part of basketball fans’ lives since the mid-1990s has elected to walk away from the sport. First it was Kobe Bryant. Then it was Tim Duncan. And now it’s Kevin Garnett’s turn.

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Two days after’s Marc Stein reported that Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves were in “advanced discussions on a contract settlement” expected to end the 40-year-old big man’s second run with the Wolves, Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that an agreement’s been reached, paving the way for one of the greatest players in NBA history to officially hang up his high-tops:

Garnett, the best player in franchise history, the player who led the team to eight straight playoff appearances starting in the spring of 1997, the leader of the 2003-04 team that reached the NBA’s Western Conference finals, will not play for the Wolves this season. Garnett and the Timberwolves came to an agreement Friday and a retirement announcement from Garnett is expected shortly, according to league source. […]

Garnett, who waived his no-trade clause in order to reunite with the Timberwolves in February of 2015 in a move orchestrated by the late president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders, will not play out the second year of his two-year, $16.5 million contract.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical confirmed that it’s all over but the shouting (which, with KG, will likely never end):

Later Friday, Garnett himself indicated that it’s a wrap via Instagram:

To be continued…

A video posted by Kevin Garnett (@tic_pix) on Sep 23, 2016 at 2:42pm PDT

The agreement comes several days before the opening of training camp in what would have been Garnett’s 22nd NBA season. As recently as Thursday, Wolves owner Glen Taylor said he didn’t know whether Garnett — who hadn’t suited up since late January, spending the balance of the season coaching, barking and helping guide the development of stars-in-the-making Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — intended to play again:

[…] no agreement can be negotiated until Taylor — who has been handling contact with Garnett — is informed of Garnett’s intent. And Taylor said he hasn’t talked with Garnett for weeks.

“I have not talked with him at all,’’ said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “We have to decide, in the next couple weeks, if he’s going to play or not play. I’m waiting for him. I sent him a message, told him, ‘I need you to make a decision.’ I just haven’t heard from him.’’ […]

Wednesday morning, in an interview about the upcoming season, Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau said any KG decision would come out of talks between Garnett and Taylor.

“We’ll see how it unfolds,” Thibodeau said. “But, obviously, what Kevin has meant to our league, the organization, he’s earned the right to have those discussions with Glen.’’

What precipitated Garnett’s quiet remains unclear. Sam Mitchell, Garnett’s former teammate, longtime friend and the coach ousted to make room for Thibodeau, suggested that the nature of his departure might sway the famously loyal Garnett to decide not to return to the club, in something of a renewal of the strained relations that characterized his first separation from the team back in 2007.

Other reports have suggested that Garnett — who agreed to the 2015 trade that sent him from the Brooklyn Nets back to Minnesota because longtime coach, friend and Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders sold him on the move, and in part because he was interested in joining buying the team in the future — lost his greatest ally in the organization after Saunders’ death last October following a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. From Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press:

League rules prevent Garnett and Taylor from discussing an ownership stake until KG retires. And with Saunders gone, Taylor was forced to look elsewhere for buyers. He negotiated with a group led by Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan, but those talks stalled. So Taylor added two minority owners this summer to strengthen his financial position.

It became clear that if Garnett wanted to buy in to the Timberwolves, he would have to take percentage so small that he would not have the influence and power that he initially envisioned. Garnett’s competitive spirit and relative aversion to public appearances and interviews meant a role as a basketball ambassador similar to the one Grant Hill has taken on as a minority owner with Atlanta did not seem realistic.

When Taylor decided to fire coach Sam Mitchell, a longtime Garnett confidante, and hire Thibodeau and Layden to set the franchise on a new course, it showed that KG did not have the power within the organization that he did as an MVP winner who led the Wolves to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

While the circumstances of his second exit from Minnesota aren’t yet clear, his impact on the game is anything but.

It was through Garnett’s sweat, energy, activity and borderline insanity that the expansion Timberwolves became a relevant NBA franchise, making the playoffs for eight straight seasons under the leadership of Garnett and Saunders, peaking in a 58-win campaign in 2003-04 during which Garnett averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals in 39.4 minutes per game, a season that would earn KG league MVP honors and see the Wolves advance to the Western Conference finals, falling two wins short of the championship round thanks to Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite Garnett’s continued excellence, a diminished Wolves team never again reached that level. Three years later, a blockbuster trade to the Boston Celtics that reignited both player and team, with the troika of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and a brash, inscrutable young point guard named Rajon Rondo stomping to 66 wins and the 2008 NBA championship. He became an icon in Boston, developing an intense rapport with the city’s fans … and with a particular clip from an old episode of “American Bandstand” that the Celtics’ game-ops crew would throw up on the JumboTron at TD Garden during Boston blowouts. Nobody enjoyed Gino Time quite like KG.

Even last season, with the weight of more than 55,000 total regular- and postseason minutes on his legs, Garnett’s all-time savvy, understanding of positioning and length still made a difference on defense. The Wolves — who gave up 107.1 points per 100 possessions overall in 2015-16, the fourth-worst mark in the league — allowed just 96.4 points-per-100 with him on the court, and despite missing more than half the season, led the team in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and ranked sixth in the whole league in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic.

He also remained a vocal leader in the Wolves’ locker room, a significant influence on the emerging talents on one of the NBA’s youngest teams. From the looks of it, Towns didn’t quite have the words to respond to Friday’s update:

It’s hard to blame him. Kevin Garnett was the kind of player who’d leave you speechless.

A lithe, lanky live-wire of a prep star at Farragut Academy in Chicago, Garnett became the first high school player in two decades to leap directly to the NBA when the Wolves drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft. He would evolve into one of the defining players of his generation, a versatile offensive player of uncommon grace for his size and arguably the greatest defensive player of all time, owing to his ability to anchor the paint, protect the rim, pilot a zone at the top of the key, destroy pick-and-rolls all over the floor and communicate rotations so loud you could hear the calls from Fargo. He was one of the most intense competitors the sport has ever seen.

Over the course of two decades in the NBA, Garnett experienced peaks and valleys. As Jared Wade wrote this week for FanSided, KG could be “the best of us and the worst of us.”

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He has paid a career-long homage to his friend Malik Sealy, who died tragically in a car accident during KG’s formative years in the league. His work ethic is uncanny, his dedication to his craft abnormal. He is among the few who seems to leave it on the court every game in a sense that isn’t a cliché. His head butting of the basketball support before each contest is real, a nightly moment of isolation used to harness the limitless intensity that improbably flows through his skinny frame.

He also butts heads — with opponents and teammates alike. He called Charlie Villanueva, a hairless alopecia sufferer, a cancer patient to degrade him. He has surely said worse that didn’t make headlines. He picks on small players while rarely confronting anyone his size. He is a bully. He made Glen Davis cry. He cut off Ray Allen as a friend after he decided to take another job.

He was also, as many who covered Garnett recalled on Friday, a stone-cold weirdo.

Garnett exits the game having pulled down more defensive rebounds than any other player in NBA history, and ranks third in total minutes played, fifth in games played, 10th in total rebounds, 16th in steals, 17th in blocks, 20th on the all-time scoring list with 26,071 career points, and 47th on in assists. He finished in the top five in Most Valuable Player voting five times, winning once after that remarkable 2003-04 season with the Wolves; won Defensive Player of the Year in 2007-08 with the Celtics; and earned 15 All-Star berths, 12 All-Defensive Team nods and nine All-NBA selections.

As is the case with Bryant and Duncan, Garnett will receive the VIP treatment from the brass at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.; he will not have to wait in line for one single solitary second longer than dictated by rules for enshrinement among the game’s immortals. That’s the way it should be. Kevin Garnett changed the game in all sorts of ways, big and small and quiet and extremely, extremely loud; he shook and shaped the sport, the way it’s played now and the way it will be played in the future, and he did it with unrivaled fire. He was a work of art, a 1 of 1. Lucky us, to have gotten him for as long as we did.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don’t Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, “Like” BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don’t Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, “Like” BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.