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: Feb 10, 2007
Posted on: August 8, 2010 7:25 pm

Prince James = Circus Show

Diff between the two .. KG makes his news ON THE COURT ...  LeWrong makes his OFF THE COURT with his craving of the lime-light.

KG got traded .. LeWrong BAILED out on his team AND dragged em classlessly through the mud.   Getting traded is a big difference ... we could go down the line after KG ... how bout Gasol .. funny how u didn't use a Laker as an example.  

LeWrong is a ME FIRST kind of guy ..  KG ultimate TEAM player.   THERE IS NO COMPARISON.

Another waste of an article .. normally i wouldn't respond .. but this one was so off base I couldn't let it slip under the radar without showing what a sham of a piece this was.  

Carry On

Since: Dec 15, 2007
Posted on: August 8, 2010 6:31 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG


What are you talking about Garnett never took a play off?  He disappeared in this year's playoffs when he was on the floor.  He wasn't hurt.  He quit.  He got his ring and quit.  Big deal if the player is 25 or 30.  It makes no difference.  LBJ's contract was up.  This year happened to be his year. 

The owner has to pay for the players.  LBJ can attract them but the owner has to pony up the dough.  He didn't year after year.  Didn't they get to the finals 3 years ago?  LBJ single handedly carried that team.  Who did the owner bring on after that to help LBJ?  The owner got complacent, lazy, and cheap.  LBJ left to play for an owner/mgmt who promised to pay for all the pieces.  NO brainer.  Don't blame LBJ.  He waited 3 years for the final piece to be acquired.  They got Shaq.  What a joke.  LBJ even stepped it up with one of the finest seasons ever as a player and won the MVP back to back.  What else can a player do? 

This became a one sided relationship with LBJ giving everything to Cleveland. 

Since: Nov 18, 2006
Posted on: August 8, 2010 5:41 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I agree that parallels exist.  Each went to a team that gave the player a better chance to win championships.  However, LeBron has (or, perhaps "HAD") visions of being the best player of all time.  Garnett simply cannot be considered in that league (as good as he is, I don't think even HE would disagree).  So, when LeBron stops being the Alpha Dog as he was in Cleveland and goes to being something less than that (Wade is the A/D in Miami), then his legacy--or, at least, his heretofore desired legacy--is harmed.  I recall a phrase in the Feinstein/Auerbach book (written in 2007) that new players think that basketball started with Michael Jordan, "or, now, LeBron James."  There has been a huge debate over whether Kobe or LeBron is "IT" in the NBA.  That's what LeBron wanted to be, right? 

If so, the debate is over.  LeBron is an extraordinarily talented player, and has garnered rave reviews over the years that place him at the pinnacle of basketball prowess.  That (being the top guy) is all gone now.  And it's not because of the "bold paragraph" Mr. Moore cites.  It's because LeBron has, voluntarily, taken a lesser role in Miami.  Now, he's one of the three amigos (or whatever they're calling themselves), and not necessarily the biggest of the three.  And even if Miami wins, it won't be because LeBron was the clear leader. 

Garnett was never in this league; this rarified an air.  Funny, but I think LeBron would have fit in MUCH better in Chicago (I live in Ohio--NOT Cleveland or Akron, however--and have dispassionately considered this).  He would have had a fine supporting cast, but HE would have been the best player there, without question.  Friendship is a wonderful thing.  I am glad LeBron is with his friends.  But championships are won not out of friendship.  And friendships can be tested. 

Bottom line:  Moore's blog is well written, but it strains the facts to get the desired conclusion.  I can't agree that the parallels are that compelling.

Since: Oct 2, 2008
Posted on: August 8, 2010 5:22 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

What most of you are failing to realize is that Lebron didn't make this move for the money or the be the greatest player that ever played the game. He did it for one reason and one reason only. To get a ring now. Not in 2 year 3 years or 5 years. People are making a big deal out of The Decision. The Decision was a charity event he didn't make a dime off the show he donated every pennie to the boys and girls club. Everyine is calling him selfish when all he does is great things. If your a borning winner like alot of people i know. They wouldn't care if your teammate average 100 points a game as long as your winning. A true winner only wants to win it doesn't matter how the victory comes. He could have stayed in Cleveland and ended up like some great players Barkley, Ewing, Stockton, Malone, Wilkins, etc. and never end up with a championship. One day one has to realize there can only be one champion and he is doing what it takes to be that.

Since: Apr 30, 2008
Posted on: August 8, 2010 4:58 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I think it is important to remember that when Kevin Garnett was THE free agent, he resigned with the Timberwolves even though he could have gone to a team with a better chance to win. He showed loyalty until it became obvious that the team would not be able to build a contender before his skills diminished.

Since: Mar 16, 2008
Posted on: August 8, 2010 1:40 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Don't try to make sense of it L B's a jerk and K G would'nt of made a specticle of it on primetime !!!!!

Since: Jan 3, 2007
Posted on: August 8, 2010 1:33 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

There is a huge difference between what LeBron did and what KG did. LeBron skipped out on town because the pressure was too much. KG got traded for half a freakin team! He never came out and said "I want out of Minnesota." He never called out teammates, and he certainly never blamed anyone for the team losing. He thanked Minnesota after winning the Finals. KG, Pierce, and Allen all deserved it, while they weren't LEGENDARY players, they were GREAT players, and they deserved that for sticking it out with their teams for so long. I look at it more as a career long achievement award for the 3 of them. LeBron is more like a well he quit on his team. Guys like KG stuck it out for years. The legendary players who LeBron was so often compared to, would never have done something like this. A true champion wants to be the leader, not follow the leader. 

Since: Nov 28, 2006
Posted on: August 8, 2010 12:27 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

LeBron is just part of the problem-  first of all, Ray Allen came to the Celtics through trade, and Pierce was already under contract.  So it's NOT really comparable to what the Heat did in signing the top 3 free agents in one off-season, especially when they signed (arguably) 2 of the top 3-5 players in the league.  Also, Wade (un-like Pierce) had already won in Miami... which makes it his team for life.  Which means LeBron will ALWAYS be number 2.  And that's why whenever those three are shown pictured together, it's D Wade in the middle being flanked by Bosh and LeBron.  Pierce was huge in the championship run, but he still took a back seat to Garnett (and also Allen somewhat) , because they never won until he got there.

Since: Apr 11, 2008
Posted on: August 8, 2010 11:01 am

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Garnett didn't make a spectacle out of it.

But he's right, it is the same thing had it not been for the circus LB wanted it to be. I think that's what makes the difference

Since: Jul 22, 2007
Posted on: August 8, 2010 10:35 am


is SHAQ leaving Orlando under similar circumstances and going to win CHAMPIONSHIPS with KOBE!

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