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 9, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 1:28 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I am from MN and I agree KG left on much better terms than Lebron did.  When Garnett left the Wolves I was more pissed at Kevin McHale than anybody else. Not for trading him away but for not building a better team around him.  McHale had plenty of time and chances to build a team and if Garnett would have stayed in MN he never would have won a ring.  I was happy for KG and pissed at McHale.  Garnett wanted to stay in MN but also wanted to win and when we decided to rebuild I dont blame him for leaving. 
I still root for KG and love watching him play.  Will Cavs fans still root for Lebron? Will they give a standing ovation when he returns to Cleveland like we did for KG when he returned to MN?

Since: Oct 4, 2006
Posted on: August 9, 2010 11:28 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Was KG trying to be the "Next Jordan"?

Was LeBron near the end of his career?

Since the answer to both questions is a resounding no, then you have your difference.

Since: Apr 17, 2009
Posted on: August 9, 2010 10:23 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

People are responding with pages of comments.  This is easy.

-The wolves were NEVER as good as the cavs have been (best record the last two seasons)
-KG was at the END of his career, not the beginning.
-KG was traded. He didn't wait until all of the other Free Agents were signed, and leave Minn. high and dry.
-Garnett wasn't from Minnesota
-He didn't publicly humiliate the twin cities in a self-serving spectacle.
-He made his intentions known.  People knew for 3+ seasons that he wanted out.  Lebron led management and the city around by the nose saying he wanted to stay, all the way up to the last MINUTE.
-Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are NOT EVEN CLOSE to being as good as Wade and Bosh. While they're both good, and both were very good when they were around.  I'm not sure anyone would have classified the 3 of them as being 3 of the top 7 players in the NBA. 

These are the differences, and they're HUGE.

Since: Mar 17, 2008
Posted on: August 9, 2010 10:00 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Well said Eldiablodeaz,  The best statement I have heard.  You should have wrote this article because that truly puts it in perspective.

Since: Dec 27, 2006
Posted on: August 9, 2010 9:56 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

The intrepid author of this article fails to mention that Kevin Garnett was TRADED, not a free agent, and that Garnett is not a self-promoting media whore like LeBron James.  James plays a team game like its one-on-five, and always has; why shouldn't he run his off-season the same way? James leveraged his star power with the sycophants from ESPN to produce a farce of an announcement, when the entire world knew he was going to Miami. James conspired with the other members of his Miami triumverate to create his team.  Note that if owners met together to plan a team or any other matter, the NBA Players' Association would be up in arms.  James' move was manipulation of "the system" and for that I will give credit.  James played the Cavs, the Bulls, and the nets masterfully, when all along he knew where he was going. 

He also failed to mention that James tanked the playoffs, and that James for all intents and purposes RAN the Cav's, managing to get his minions hired by the Cavs, and other staffing at his whim.


Since: Apr 13, 2009
Posted on: August 9, 2010 9:24 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

i see lebron's "decision" as an total mis-calulation on stating his claim to being considered as the NBA's greatest player. during his last
two-three seasons in cleveland, lebron was continuely being labeled as the "face of the NBA" without ever winning a championship and though painfully obvious, he needed better players as a supporting cast and the problem us NBA fans are having with lebron is, "you don't bolt to another team, the elite NBA players in pursuit of championships should be traded/signed and come to you, in cleveland"

with KG, he is an anchor, on both ends of the court, but all you can do is all you can do, and  i don't think while with the t-wolves he was ever marketed like lebron and in the competative western conference, its hard becuase, year after year KG being compared to the malones' ducans, webers, etc. during his run and before being traded to botson and the weaker eastern conference.

in all, miami has purchsed want they wanted and lets see if these huge signings net a championship in 2010?

becuase if miami doesn't win it all this year, what does that  say about lebron when mentioned in the same sentence as KG, hmmmmm !!!!!

notice chris bosh is mentioned, he's currently assigned to be jawan howards' understudy on being a solid power forward on and off the
court. j-howard's career is fairly consistant at most, i am an wizards' fan and remember him from his years in DC, but thats like 10-15
years ago, well past any major productional fuction, go figure !!!!!!

Since: Aug 9, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 9:09 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Please don't speak on behalf of "loads of NBA fans" becuase a lot of people I know do not feel that way, Lebron did the right thing as he was a free agent unlike Garnett or Gasol, the only people that feel the way you do are Cleveland fans and all of the other teams that struck out on the Lebron sweepstakes like Chicago,NY and so on. So please do not speak for us !

Since: Aug 9, 2010
Posted on: August 9, 2010 8:54 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Didn't the article just state that Garnett asked to be traded or could've stayed and be "the man" if he chose to , same goes for Gasol, I think it's more admirable what Lebron did becuase he did his 7 years and was free to go, he didn't force a trade behind closed doors. This thing about Legacy is crap, when he starts winning championships people won't even remember he played for Cleveland. There are plenty of examples where players have left in their prime "REMEMBER SHAQ" in Orlando ? Or should we have Shaq return all of his rings.

Since: Aug 2, 2006
Posted on: August 9, 2010 4:10 am
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Aug 23, 2007
Posted on: August 9, 2010 1:05 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Terrible comparison.  First, the window had closed on the T Wolves.  They were going backwards and management wanted to rebuild.  They asked KG to accept the trade and he, on the first go around, refused it.  He wasn't clawing to bolt Minnesota, and that despite the fact that they had fallen out of the playoffs.  Second, this absolutely hurt his legacy.  If he had won in minny, he would've been in the upper tier of players.  He's more Dr. J than Bird or Magic...

LeBron is in his prime on a 61 win team.  We're talking about a guy who had a chance to be in that hallow company.  It's hard to see that ever happening now.

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