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: Jul 7, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:05 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

When you talked about this being a double standard....the fact of the matter is that Kevin Garnett is not in the same league as as Jordon, Bird, Magic, Kobe, and Lebron. A great player and warrior but not one of the aforementioned. Lebron's legacy will be tainted because the others did it with the team they were with.......not out shopping themselves around or rounding up a posse. Yes, Garnett did the same thing......but we will not be talking about him in 20 years like we will with the elite.

Since: Aug 25, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:05 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Garnett and Allen were traded to Boston, thats the difference.

Since: Jul 21, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:56 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I don't agree at all. LeBron Is considered by many, if not most people, to be the best player on the planet, IN HIS PRIME! KG Had a lot more tread off the tire when he went to chase a title. Chasing a title is not a new concept in the NBA, or any other sport for that matter. But to even attempt to compare the move KG, like many others in all sports, did with LJ is rediculous! LeBron made this ALL about him. Hey world, guess where I'm going to play ball next year? Give me a break! This last couple months were the most ego filled days in sports that I can ever remember. Someone please try to tell me a more self-centered event in sports. I thought Brett Favre liked the spotlight, but this is pathetic! This article is a complete stretch!

Since: Jul 2, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:44 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Seriously, if you really think the two situations are the same, then you're an idiot and shouldn't be a sports writer.  #1 Garnett was traded, whereas Lebron had a choice.  #2 Garnett was towards the end of his career, whereas Lebron is just entering his prime.  #3 Garnett is a power forward who joined forces with two guards/perimeter players, whereas Lebron joined Wade, a perimeter oriented player who just happens to be the next best player in the Eastern Conference.  The reason the public is upset is because a star in the prime of his career left his hometown and a 60 win team to go play on the team of one of his chief rivals.  People don't have a problem when stars chase rings at the end of their career, however Lebron basically decided that even though he has billed himself as the best player in the league he couldn't win a title without going to play on Dwayne Wade's Miami Heat. 

Since: Aug 6, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:43 pm


I'm from Akron. Lebron let the fans of this area down. He drug Cleveland through the dirt and defiled his image locally. Lebron hurt his legacy...he'll always have one less ring than Wade (assuming they can win). Lebron won't even go down as the best of his generation now. He's lost his way and his ego is out of control.

Since: May 17, 2007
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:39 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

This article is plain wrong and the author even tried a weak explanation why it isn't.  KG is similar to anyone it is Bosh !  He played on a team that could not get it done time and time again and didn't over spend to try.  The Cavs were a team that made it far year after year and proved they were trying to win by going over the luxury tax to do it(many of these bad moves made with the input of LBJ).

On top of that Garnett tried to win LBJ is just entering his peak years and he has jumped ship.  Guys that are on the down side of their career are the ones who move to try to win a title after years of fighting for one while in peak form.

Since: Nov 24, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:38 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I think this is a late-career opinion. KG is one of those playground old-timers that do what they can to keep up with the younger guys.

Since: Nov 24, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:36 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

This is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Similar to how people can't compare a PG to a C in terms of greatness you can't compare KG'S move to Boston to Lebron's move. KG is a power forward; power forwards don't 'control' the game the way other positions can. Minny's shortcomings just can't be placed at KG's feet because, seriously, how much actual control did he have over the outcome? A PF doesn't manage a game the way a PG (or whatever postion Lebron actually plays based on his versatility) does. To say that KG isn't taking game-deciding shots b/c, by their nature PFs aren't game-deciders (on the offensive end), isnt' the same as saying Lebron isn't or won't be taking game-deciding shots. KG saw his supporting cast and decided that those guys weren't enough. I don't think anyone viewed him as the game-deciding shot taker. Being a leader doesn't mean that you're the guy taking the last shot only. It is a multi-variable role and, to me, the only variable KG didn't have was being the guy that took every last-second shot.

Remember, Lebron isn't supposed to be another great player. Lebron has been marketed to us as the potential heir to the Jordan throne: the next GOAT. This is a guy who has the nickname 'King'. King implies 'best' not 'just another terrific player'. The discussion and debate about Lebron has been 'will he turn out to be the best ever?' Now, unequivocally the answer to that is 'no'. The reason the answer is no is because he chose to play WITH another player that is considered his near-equal. Now we won't know which is better. If Miami wins a title who will be determined to be 'the man'? It might be indecipherable. With the Jordan-led Bulls there is no debate. In spite of the title-winning shots hit by the likes of John Paxson-types those titles are Jordans. He didn't seek out superior help to win; he said 'get me some guys to help me win'. What he got was a good enough support cast to aid him when he decided (or the moment dictated) that he needed them.

That, to me, is the crux of the debate: will Lebron ever be considered the GOAT? His move, though it shouldn't be ridiculed' insures the answer is a resounding 'no'. Lebron will likely still go down as one of the greatest players ever. But THE greatest? No.

Since: Mar 19, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:36 pm


Garnett respected?  Where did that hogwash come from?  The players in the league know Garnett as a whiner a dirty player and have little or no respect for him!!!

Since: Oct 3, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:33 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

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. Uh, yeah he does. See? This is what is the problem with snot-nosed, punk sportswriters nowadays.
It's all about KG, right? He needed the best chance for a ring.
How about Tony Gwynn? All those years with the Padres. Hey! He needs a ring, too.
Let me tell you something Jasper..... the "ring" for athletes like Garnett are just as much (if not MORE SO)
a product of their A-G-E-N-T-S than anything to do with their individual talents.
Just hold out and get traded, sold, given or Elway'd to the team you want.
$hit. Anyone with a half-a$$ed agent can get a 'RING' nowadays.
It rather cheapens the bling these "to-the-highest-bidder" get on the finger if successful.
And it no longer takes a lifetime of good stats. Have a few good years? Then DEMAND a trade to some frontrunner.
I've got more admiration for 'one team' Tony Gwynn than I have for the hundreds of Garnetts that sports agents produce
every year.
Please, don't patronize me with how righteous Garnett is.
If Garnett loved Minnesota? He would have pulled a Kirby Puckett.

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