Blog Entry

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Posted on: August 6, 2010 11:37 am
Edited on: August 6, 2010 11:46 am
Posted by Matt Moore

Kevin Garnett is one of the most respected players in the NBA, with good reason. No one has shown  more focus at both ends of the floor over the past decade than Kevin Garnett. Much of his trademarked intensity is show; the screaming, spitting, growling is revealed as little more than theatrics when you employ them as often as he has. But that doesn't change how he's constantly barking out defensive assignments, dressing down teammates, and blocking the ever-loving crap out of anyone that dares to challenge his authority (or dying trying). He's a 13-time All-Star, and has an MVP trophy, a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, and an NBA champion.

And with all that respect that he has earned comes a level of expectation, often unfair, mostly ridiculous, that he live up to what we believe is the model of a true NBA legend. Or at least, that's been the pattern for everyone except KG. And if you want proof of that, compare KG and LeBron James.

In 2010, LeBron James abandoned his team, the Cavaliers, and did it in a publicly humiliating and disgracefully opulent way on national television. Maybe you heard about it, here and there. Before we continue, let's be very clear on this point:

The primary reason for the backlash against James is the way in which he announced his decision ("The Decision"), the way he seemingly laughed and skipped out of town while the dreams he had given Cleveland fans burned to the ground. There is simply no way to defend or even deflect that criticism. You're not going to find anyone outside of South Beach who thinks this was in any way acceptable. KG has never behaved in such a way, nor did he embarrass Minnesota on the way out of town. The way the two left is simply not comparable. See, I put it in bold, just so we're all clear on this.

However, the secondary argument against James is that he has in some way compromised his legacy, lessened his greatness, by not being the sole elite player on his team. He is no longer considered able to reach the sport's summit because he has joined Dwyane Wade's team instead of building championship gold from the rubble he was drafted into. That by joining other elite players, he can no longer be considered elite.

Let's head on back to 2007.

Kevin Garnett has failed to reach the summit with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted him. Though there were a handful of very good teams, none of them even approached what you would call a "great" team. The Sam Cassell-Latrell Sprewell team rose and fell apart as fast as it came together, and Garnett has been losing consistently. It becomes known that he wants out, wants to be traded to a contender, does not want to waste his career any longer. He doesn't outright say he wants to be traded, after all, you're fined for such activity. But it's made pretty clear that his time with Minnesota is over. It's done. He winds up heading to Boston, joining Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, the captain, to form the first modern Big 3 and first relative superteam since the Lakers' 2004 crime against nature.

(It should be noted that the Spurs' combination of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili definitely constituted enough talent as to be considered a superteam, but more perhaps more impressively, they did it organically. They came to have three superstars by developing the talent they drafted. Not by acquiring the gold when the market was high on it.)

But KG was and is the leader, right? Well, I don't know. Paul Pierce is the captain, right? And the guy taking the game winning shots, most often? The face of the team? It's heart and soul? Isn't Pierce the one most often relied upon to rally the team? While Garnett is undeniably a leader on the Celtics, is he really considered the leader?

Oddly, what led me down this line of thought was a quote from, of all people, Rasho Nesterovic.

In an interview with , and translated and brought forth by Project Spurs , Nesterovic talks about the difference between Garnett and Duncan. He discusses how Duncan won with the team that drafted him, and how Garnett made the smart move, but it was one to turn to the Celtics, who already had a leader in Pierce. This all leads to Nesterovic saying Duncan was the greater power forward of his time.


Now, this is Rasho Nesterovic. We're not talking Bill Russell here. But the idea is one that deserves consideration. Did KG join the Celtics as a leader, or did he simply do the exact same thing that LeBron James did, only under better PR cover? The argument can certainly be made that James joined in free agency (which is apparently worse than bailing on your team while under contract with them), while Garnett was traded, so it wasn't really his decision. But if Garnett had told Minnesota management, "I don't want to be traded. I either win here, or I don't win at all," do you really think the Wolves would have said "No, no, Mr. Hall-of-Fame-Most-Beloved-Player-In
-Franchise-History, we want no part of you here"? Is that what you think would have occurred? Because I'm pretty sure Kevin McHale would have just gone back to figuring out ways to build the Wolves around KG (and failing miserably).

The argument could also be made that KG was on a "loser" while James was on a contending team. But there are two responses to that. 1. While this Cavs team was certainly better than any KG had, James has also been superior in terms of production (and playoff success if we're being honest) than anything KG had been. I'm simply pointing out that if you're going to say the Cavs were better, you also have to point out that James was better, and was a reason for the Cavs being better. And 2, is there really a difference between contender-but-not-champion and loser in our society? I don't subscribe to this. I think there are tons of brilliant players that simply were never fortunate enough to run into the blessed set of circumstances you need to win a championship (or play for LA). But if you're a results oriented person, KG and James had accomplished the same thing, and so to say that one needed to do what he needed in order to win a ring and the other needed to continue to struggle is a bit ridiculous.

We come to the crux of this, which is actually not that KG deserves more criticism or scorn for leaving Minnesota to fall into the void. Far from it. Garnett recognized that he needed to win a ring before his time was up, that it wasn't going to happen in Minny, and that Boston represented the best chance for him. He took it. He doesn't deserve to be slagged for that. Garnett has told other players not to let what happened to him in Minnesota happen to them. Now, that particular action is a little less likable. After all, there have been players that stayed "home" and eventually reached the promised land, and those championships are much more special to their small markets than the umpteenth championship for a storied franchise. This is nothing to do with the quality of the fans and just the simple fact that a lone championship means more than one of many.

But Garnett is simply passionate about being the best he can be. And for him, that meant joining a team with an established star, a veteran leader, along with another veteran leader, and winning a championship. That was his path. And it is not all that dissimilar from LeBron James' path (in terms of the end result; remember, the bold clause! The bold clause!). So if we're going to criticize James for not being "the man," we need to similarly disparage Garnett, Pau Gasol, and other players that did what they needed to in order to win a ring.

Garnett is no villain. He loved Minnesota. But in the end, he felt his best chance for achieving that ring was in Boston, alongside other stars. Those facts coincide with LeBron James' actions of the past three months. Even if you feel that Garnett was able to be a leader alongside Paul Pierce (the most rational and likely conclusion), you should at least recognize the same dynamic's likelihood in Miami. You don't have to like how James pulled off this career correction. No one does. But to question his legacy opens up a Pandora's Box that is linked throughout some of the greatest players in the history of the league.

Don't throw stones. The halls of NBA greatness are built of glass.


Since: Aug 10, 2010
Posted on: August 10, 2010 8:01 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

i'm with the whole kg stayed longer and made more attempts etc. he was in mini for twice as long as lebron was in cleveland, and made a lot more with clearly worse teams. lebron left in a terrible way and kg left after exhausting all options and left his home team ok with it. i get the comparisons and if lebron did this in 10 years then maybe so, but lebron has always been pegged as this super player who could rival jordan in all time greatness, and for him to kick it all in after such a short period of time (career wise) and in his home town no less, is completely unacceptably and rightfully should leave a black mark all over his legacy.

Since: Jul 23, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 6:59 pm

Why is it dishonourable to leave?

I don't understand why it is dishonourable for Lebron to leave. Can someone help me out with this?

I was watching the Red Sox game against the Yankees today. Al Leiter was talking about how the Red Sox were going to let Paplebon leave to free agency and avoid picking up his option. If the Red Sox did this would the world cry that they were dishonourable? Of course not. Red Sox fans would be happy to let a big contract go, pick up Bard and then put that money towards bringing in Jason Werth.

So why is it that we as fans try to guild players into staying with their original team even though we have no problem tossing players that have been loyal to their franchise, out on their rear ends, because its convenient for that franchise.

Its a silly bias. We expect players to be completely loyal and when they arent we persecute them, yet we have no problem cutting bait on a player that looks risky or that is over valued.

Good for Lebron and exercising his rights.

Since: May 31, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 4:57 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

As I watched Kenny Lofton get inducted into the indians hall of fame yesterday and Jim Thome hit his 578 career home run I came to realize what a pleasure it was to watch the indians of the 90's even though they did not win a championship.  Thome left cleveland for a large contract but was never hated her because the indians were going to be in rebuild mode for years to come...can't blame him.  There is a huge diference between lebron and those 2 class individual's, lebron always played the part of the leader, go to guy, media maniac, team spokesman, general manager, picture taker, northeast ohio boy...ect.  We all know now that he and the word "leadership" can NEVER be used in the same sentence.  Lofton and Thome weren't from ohio, but you would never know it,  they are always cheered and idolized years later.  Thome will make the hall of fame and go in as an indian, that will make cleveland very proud even though there were no championship there were years of enjoyment. 

Lebron needs to take a good look in the mirror and hopefully he see's one of those 2 faces looking back!

Since: Jan 8, 2007
Posted on: August 9, 2010 4:46 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

There's no comparison here.  LeBron did it when he was entering the prime of his career.  KG did it on the downturn of his.  LeBron is/was being touted as the next MJ and greatest of all-time.  KG, while an all-star, never got such acclaim.  LeBron promised the CAVS he wasn't going anywhere until he won them a Championship.  KG never made any such promises (that I'm aware of).  KG joined an aging Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (Pierce might have still been in his prime for a year, but was definitely on the downturn).  LeBron is joining Dwayne Wade while Wade is in the middle of his Prime and Bosh when Bosh is entering into his prime.  And finally, LeBron did it in a one-hour, nationally staged interview on ESPN, Garnett made his move with humility.

Since: Apr 22, 2009
Posted on: August 9, 2010 4:16 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Liebron is a Loser, KG was on a loser.  KG best was behind him and so is Liebron. Losing in hometown What?, best record in NBA the last two years, Liebron tanked playoffs because he was leaving Cleveland and if they had won the NBA title he would almost HAD to stay in Cleveland.  Liebron CANNOT be compared to the OLD guys looking for a title.  I do not blame Payton or Malone or KG or Pistole Pete, any gguy near the end of his career should be able to look for the best chance for a title.  Liebron will NOT, will NOT win a title in Miami because there will only be one basketball.

Since: Nov 14, 2006
Posted on: August 9, 2010 3:22 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Nobody was comparing Kevin Garnett to Michael Jordan or asking (rhetorically!) if he was the greatest player in the history of the sport.

Kevin Garnett was playing on an awful team that was never, ever going to compete for a championship. (There are no surprises in the NBA playoffs.)

Kevin Garnett gave his whole career to Minnesota and was getting old. Kevin Garnett was "results oriented" after he failed the first time. I'm not sure at what point James can be said to have failed, but at 25 years old, he's a quitter.

Kevin Garnett wasn't running a years long campaign to "brand" himself as a global icon.

Kevin Garnett ran to 2 other washed up almost-superstars. LeBron James ran to 2 of the other 5 best players in the sport.

In short, what Kevin Garnett did was perfectly understandable for his career goals, age, accomplishments, and proclaimed expectations. What LeBron did is cowardly...unless you think, as many now do, that LeBron has no desire to be a leader of anything but coreographed bench skits.

Since: Aug 9, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 2:49 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

We all are guilty of putting Lebron on "The Pedestal" of the possibility of him finishing his career with the title of "the Greatest ever to play the game"   We never put Garnett in that conversation!   We have always respected his game and his warrior approach of attempting to lift the timberwolves franchise on his skinny shoulders, he had no peripheral motivation, KG always has had blinders on, no picture taking, and no i want you all to witness.  He went about his work he never cared if we were watching, that is why he cussed himself out, Garnett has never asked us to watch, this comparison doesn't hold water and it is disrespectful to KG for you to write this garbage.  Lebron has asked us to watch and we have watched and we liked what we saw until we "witnessed him" not being as brave as WE would have hoped that he would be.   This is an emotional subject for us because we had already labeled Lebron a champion, and we assumed that we would "witness" his climb to the possibibility of him becoming the ""greatest of alltime" in a cavaliers uniform.  We were watching the next great classic as a reality show.   we had GIVEN this kid greatness, and champion, fearlessness and could take on 5, with determination, work, bravery and patience one day he would succeed.....  we had all seen that masterpiece was a classic and it was legendary!   His armstrong, kerr, grant and pippen and jackson were to come it just takes time!

we are in different times!!  i would have stayed, maybe you would have also! it would have been the honorable thing to do stay home and lead the hometown team to the championship.  i do understand mr gilberts response, i know i would have acted in the same fashion, as a businessman.....but the letter would have never seen the light of day.   I haven't been able to locate or interpret the class in mr gilberts public response that he built the relationship with this impressionable kid that was his employee since he was 19 years old, for Lebron to make an "Honorable Decision"
  Its over but for those of us that are adults, and that do love the game we should take some responsibility to understand that we gave this kid too much too soon and that really wasn't all his fault maybe we should stop giving away legendary status before the age of 30 or at least until 3 rings are won!    Lets take this reality show off the AIR!       
; The king is a prince and he should not had been crowned!    can we please get on to the auditions of the next Air-apparent! 

Since: Nov 15, 2008
Posted on: August 9, 2010 2:23 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

If you wanted to write a real article then why don't you do a little investigative reporting, after all D Wade obviously told the Miami Heat management that James and Bosh were willing to leave their teams to join up with Wade at the conclusion of their contracts. This gave the Miami Heat the opportunity to tank seasons and have the necessary cap space. The whole time this collusion was going on the poor saps in Cleveland and Toronto were playing by the rules and trying to get better without the help of their athletic leaders, James and Bosh, see the acquisition of Turkoglu in Toronto and the Cav's willingness to sign anyone willing to come to Cleveland and help. If James had truely intended to stay in Cleveland if they won the championship then he would have assisted management in recruiting players to come rather than stay silent when asked of his intentions.

Another point glossed over by the article is how we have been told thru the media that James has been on the road to becoming the greatest of all times, hell no he can't even be considered the greatest of his draft class. No matter how many rings he wins in Miami he will still be 1 short of how many Wade has led HIS team too. Stupid f'n move.

Has anyone ever seen a team facing elimination just stop playing as the Cavs did against Boston in the last few minutes? Even when facing a larger deficit than the Cavs faced at the end teams continue to play! That was F'n weak, greatest of all time? Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Since: Sep 18, 2006
Posted on: August 9, 2010 2:14 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

     This is one of the most ridiculous, uninformed articles I have ever read.  The only thing that is similar between the two is that they both changed teams and that’s where it ends.  Garnett stated that he wanted to stay in Minn and did not want to go to Boston  I remember being upset as a Boston fan because I couldn’t understand why KG wouldn’t want to come here and stay with the wolves.  Garnett had to be talked into the trade and the Celtics gave up half their team to get him.

     Lebron chose to make a spectacle of himself in this big announcement which I personally thought was an embarrassment to not only espn but to Cleveland and their fans.  To paraphrase what Jordan said, I would never had joined Bird or Magic because I wanted to beat them.  Lebron is a self promoting joke who has no where near the heart that many of the former greats like, magic, bird, Jordan or even Barkley.  I am happy they pulled that off because my interest in the NBA just got peaked a little more and I can’t wait for the Celtics to play them.  It’s really too bad because I was a big Wade fan and now he’s going to be overshadowed by Lebron and his PR machine.  As a matter of fact I am willing to bet that the author of this article is on Lebron’s payroll.

Since: Jul 23, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 1:40 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Its so easy to judge, isnt it?

Lebron was offered a shoot load of money by ESPN to go on TV and announce his decision. I am an attorney. If I was considering moving law firms and LAW ESPN offered me a shoot load of money to go on TV and announce my decision as to where I was going and my new employer was ok with it, I would probably do it. Wouldnt we all?

Lebron was offered the chance to go play basketball in a warm beautiful place with two of his best buddies. If I was offered a similar deal I would take it. I hate the cold so an opportunity to work with my friends in a warm place is very enticing. Wouldnt we all like this chance?

Lebron was given the opportunity, a very young age, to build himself a potential dynasty. I get that Garnett and other "older" guys waited before they jumped at the chance to build their dynasty. Why does this matter? Isnt Lebron just smarter than all these old guys? A chance to play on a dyansty for 5 years with your buddies in YOUR PRIME. Wow. That sounds great. Sign me up. Would anyone else take this opportunity?

Free agency is a right players earn based upon a collective agreement that is formed after difficult negotiations. Lebron earned his rights fair and square. He chose to sign with his friends, make a shoot load of money, give himself the best chance to win and wear shorts to work.

The real reason we all hate this is because the team we root for, (save the Lakers, Celtics and maybe Spurs) doesnt stand a chance now and for the next five years. This deal has made a mockery of the NBA's competitive balance.

If there is someone to blame for this potentially disatrous outcome it is the NBA. Shame on them for not insisting on a model that promotes and protects parity. The NFL has made parity a critical goal and as a result almost every single team has a chance at the playoffs and a superbowl ring at the start of the season. The NBA failed in this regard. The development of the super team in Miami has knocked out more than half the league.

Don't blame Lebron folks. He is just a man playing within the rules. Blame the people who allowed the rules to destroy the competitive balance of the NBA.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or