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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: Oct 30, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 2:16 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Here are a couple of major differences which the author conviniently omits to mention.

1. KG gave Minnesota 12 years, not 7, like Lebron and made the move when he was at the end of his prime (if not past his prime). Garnett was 30, when he switched teams. Lebron is 25. Not saying Lebron should have waited another 5 years. Just pointing out the obvious.

2. KG has never taken a play, let a alone a quarter or a game off. He played every minute, like it was his last on the floor. Can you say the same about Lebron?

3. There is an argument that James' overall production was higher than that of Garnett. Should not it be easier for him to bring people to Cleveland, that it was for Garnett? Weird argument.

4. Garnett tried, management tried, but they failed. His last season in Minnesota was a losing season, it was an acknowledgement that they have given up and ready to rebuild. With Cavs, it was another story.

All in all, the star icon player left the team that drafted and loved him. But that's where the similarity between two ends. Stars leave their teams all the time to win a championship elsewhere. Drexler left Portland to win in Houston, Barkley left Phoenix for a shot at a championship. Malone left Utah, Payton tried it everywhere. But what unites all of them is that they gave their team their prime. If you must compare LeBron's situation to someone it should have been Shaq. He, just like Lebron, left his team in his prime and was hated by Orlando for a long time after that. But even he did not lower himself to that bolded paragraph you inserted to keep the haters away...

Since: Aug 6, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 2:15 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

What people are saying about this "decision" hurting Lebron's legacy is that he can no longer be considered the greatest of all time... he can no longer become better than Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or anyone else you would consider the greatest.  No matter how many championships KG won with boston he would never be considered better than Jordan, no matter how many Paul Pierce won with the Big 3 he would never be considered greater than Jordan. Lebron can still be an outstanding basketball player in the history of the NBA, he can win lots of championships but no matter how many he wins he will never be able to surpass Jordan because he didnt do it himself. He didnt work to bring players to his team, or make the players his team selected good enough to win. He left to go to a team that was already established, with a player that had already won a title with that team. That is the difference between what Lebron and KG did and what Kobe and Michael did. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan stayed where they were and worked to make themselves and the players on their team good enough to win, and when they needed more help they got those players to come to their teams and become a part of their team. Lebron could not do that. No one wanted to go to Cleveland and help him win. And although he puts up amazing numbers he was never able to make his teamates good enough to win a title... even when they had the best record in the NBA.

Since: Apr 12, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 2:11 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I think one of the biggest differences between KG and Lebron is there need to be in the spot light.  KG although well recognized doesn't need to be the center of attention of the entire world.  I think Lebron would be shocked if he met someone who didn't know who he was.  He thrives on attention.   For that reason I'm surprised he didn't go to New York.  But he wants positive attention on a winning team.  Comparing these 2 players is tough.  One focuses on basketball and plays hard.  The other plays hard but wants to be seen and be involved with anything that will show off his big ugly face.

Since: Dec 14, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 2:03 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Agreed. 100% agreed. Excellent writing if I do say so myself. I wonder tho, when Payton and Malone both went to LA towards the ends of their careers, had they actually won a title, would people say "Oh, he didn't win in his home town so it doesn't mean as much." Winning should be priority one when it comes to any sport. Why play a game with the notion that its ok to lose? and its ok to keep losing as long as you are losing in your hometown? Makes no sense to me...

Since: May 17, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 2:02 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Well I do not want to defend LeBron James, hate the guy-always have, but technically he was "traded" too, just to a team of his choosing when he said he would not resign with Cleveland anyway.  Had Garnett been a free agent in 2007 my guess is you would have seen the same thing -- Garnett would have announced an intention to sign with someone other than Minnessota and then a sign and trade between Minnessota and whichever team Garnett picked.  Gasol was traded in a situation in which he did not apparently control the situation like Lebron and Garnett (to a lesser degree as Minnessota could have forced Garnett to play out his contract without trading him).  I do not fault Lebron for leaving Cleveland if he wanted to, I do fault him for two playoff flame outs when he had the team with the best record in the NBA and apparently blaming everyone but himself and I do fault him for the classless, ego massaging way he announced he was leaving Cleveland.

Since: May 18, 2009
Posted on: August 6, 2010 1:52 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Garnett was traded and he was 30 something when he realized he couldn't do it alone..and what did Gasol do? he was traded also it's different than making a"decision to bolt where you have a free hand in choosing which team you play for..

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