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: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: August 7, 2010 11:08 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Buying into your premise, Matt, that Kevin Garnett's legacy was no better than LeBron's means examining the circumstances in which KG left Minnesota. There was a reported agreement for KG to be traded to Boston months earlier than it happened. KG had a no-trade clause and vetoed that trade even though he had privately asked for a trade. It was only after Boston traded for Ray Allen that KG agreed to go to Boston and play with two fellow stars. It was and remained Paul Pierce's team. The Truth still took the game-ending shots. But the three agreed to share with each other and the result was an immediate championship. KG held out for an edge . . . . and got it.

Why could KG not win in Minnesota? Because he held the most lucrative contract in the NBA using up cap space for two stars. Minnesota also was unable or unwilling to draw other stars there because management could not demonstate a better plan. It was not KG's job to get others to sign there. It was Kevin McHale's job and he consistently failed. In the same way it was not LeBron's job to recruit other players to Cleveland. He tried. It was Dan Gilbert's job with Danny Ferry to bring them there and provide a proper culture to win. It was easily seen as LeBron's failure but in fact the character of the team was wrong. The supporting cast never approched Scotty Pippen or Ray Allen or Paul Pierce or Dennis Rodman or Horace Grant . Miami with the Hall of Famer Pat Riley doing the recruiting was the opposite. He had aleady demonstated the ability to assemble a winning team. He had already demonstarted the ability to win multiple championships. Phil Jackson and Pat Riley and Gregg Popovitch stand alone on the NBA stage as multiple winners. Every great athlete wants to win the championship. Want to win? Play for Jackson, Riley or Popovitch. Pop started with Tim Duncan and David Robinson . Two greatest of all time. Add a foreign scouting department that was ahead of its time in recognizing Manu Ginobili (57th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft) and Tony Parker (28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft). The point is that expert drafting and the developing of the drafted players in San Antonio against the failure to do so in Cleveland and Minnesota led to multiple rings against recognition that those other teams would never make it to the championship champagne course. Likewise Phil started with Michael Jordon and Scotty Pippen adding Dennis Rodman , Luke Longley, John Paxton and others to continue to provide talent around multiple championship teams, then moved to LA for Kobe Bryant  and Shaquille O'Neal for multiple championships. When Shaq left (driven out by Kobe?) there was a drought until Kobe demanded a trade leading to the highway robbery of Memphis for Pau Gasol to again assemble multiple championships. Finally Pat Riley inherited Kareem Abul-Jabbar , Jamaal Wilks and Magic Johnson with James Worthy in LA for multiple championships. In Miami adding Shaq to Dwyane Wade brought another. Although Miami is now coached by Eric Spolstra, Rioley is in the building able to step in whenever needed. There are simply few options for a top player to win championships and it takes several  along with the coach to achieve the synergy to produce a dynasty.

Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron are simply coming together under a legend to create a new synergy in team. Can they win? They must beat Orlando with Dwight Howard; Boston with Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo and Shaq; Chicago with Rose, Boozer, Deng and Noah;  Atlanta with Johnson, Smith, and Horford just to play the Western Conference champ which boasts their own teams with a big three or four or more. LAL with Bryant, Gasol, Artest, Fisher, and Odom; Denver with Anthony, Billups, Martin and Nene; Portland with Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Batum and Miller; OKC with Durant, Green and Westbrook; Houston with Yao, Scola, Battier and Brooks; Utah with Williams, Okur, Kirilenko, and Jefferson; Dallas with Kidd, Nowitzki, Terry and Hayward; and San Antonio with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all should provide worthy foes to challenge the early talk of a Miami Dynasty. Thay have talked the talk and now must walk the walk. The team that can best defend one-on-one against them will perhaps themselves become a dynasty. This time of year there is lots of hope.

Since: Jun 1, 2007
Posted on: August 7, 2010 7:21 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

The main difference is Minnesota got compensation for KG.. Cleveland got nothing, not even a chance to go out and get a good free agent because Lebron gave them no warning.

Since: Apr 6, 2007
Posted on: August 7, 2010 6:19 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Since this post aptly points out one of the illustrations that the article blatantly misses I'll choose to tack my comments onto this.
Garnett was unhappy in Minnesota.  More specifically, Kevin Garnett was incredibly frustrated with Kevin McHale.  He openly implored Minnesota to go in a different direction.  In one interview he clearly said "but I don't understand why I have to be the one to leave, I want to play in Minnesota, why does it have to be me that leaves?"  Fair or unfair Garnett drew a line in the sand and said to ownership you choose, its me or McHale.  They chose McHale.  That is much different than what Lebron did to Cleveland.  Why did Lebron wait to announce until after everyone else was gone?  Cleveland doesn't even have the chance to sign anyone else because they're all under contract already.  That is not what KG did.  Not even close.

Since: Dec 21, 2006
Posted on: August 7, 2010 5:25 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Just when I think I've read the worst article that one of these hacks can put on this site, another even more ridiculous article appears. KG and Gasol were traded for. KG and Gasol did not have dinner with the respective superstars on their team of choice and plan it out. Lebron is an insecure bitch. His Cavs were the best team in the NBA 2 years running and they did nothing. It had nothing to do with the Queen's supporting cast. It had to do with the Queen.

Since: Oct 21, 2006
Posted on: August 7, 2010 4:24 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

First, you can't put Pierce in this discussion because he was with the Celtics and stayed with the Celtics.
Second, "Both KG and LBJ left to go to an established team?" The Celtics won 24 games the previous year! Hardly established. Only their history was established.

Since: Jul 30, 2008
Posted on: August 7, 2010 4:22 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

This article is crap!  When KG signed with Boston, yes he was chasing a title.  But, KG is a shell of his former self.  He is no longer that dominant player he was his first 5 years in the NBA.  He played with a lackluster team that had no chance of winning a championship.  He wanted out.  He got out.  Ray Allen was in the same situation.  He got out.  They (Allen, Pierce, Garnett) didn't call each other and say, "hey lets team up to win a ring."  Boston had the money to bring in two of the players to fit into their system. 

As for the "King", Wade, and Bosh.  What they did is BS!!!  They are all at the prime of their careers.  They had to call each other and beg one another to play together to TRY and win a title.  Don't think for one second all 3 of them won't have a bulls eye on their backs when they are driving the hole.  1 or all 3 of them will be out for an extended period of time for their selfishness this upcoming season.  

I never see Duncan or Nash chasing a title.  Too bad these 3 thugs think playing together will bring them each a ring.  Too bad Kobe and friends have something to say about that.  Just goes to show that nothing good happens in Miami.  Dolphins, Hurricanes, Marlins......all brutal.  Just chalk this up to the Heat being another disappointment in South Beach. 

Since: Oct 21, 2006
Posted on: August 7, 2010 4:16 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I have two big problems with your coment otherwise I pretty much agree "but technically he was "traded" too," ?????

No offense but do you know the meaning of the words trade or traded? He was not "technicallly" traded because Cleveland got absolutely nothing in return. That's what a trade is. You give someone something or someone and they give you something or someone BACK. Did the Heat give Cleveland something back? No.

And also the KG thing, in your scenario at least it would have been a sign and TRADE and Minnesota would have gotten something in return.

Since: Oct 15, 2007
Posted on: August 7, 2010 3:09 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

The issue is how the player treated is original team on the way out.  With Garnett's trade, the T-Wolves were amply compensated with Al Jefferson and a package of players/picks.  When KG arrived in Boston, he was almost over the top with the respect and admiration he showed for his time in "'Sota".  KG gave everything he had to Minnesota while he was there, and would have preferred to win there and stay with one team.

Lebron James on the other hand was a free agent.  There are questions about the effort he put in at the end of his time in Cleveland, and more than a few suggestions that he was already out the door.  When the season ended and he absolutely knew he was gone, does he tell the Cavs so that they can pursue alternatives?  No.  Lebron pulls the sham of a special, gives the finger to Cleveland.....all after most of free agency has concluded, completely hamstringing his former organization.  What respect does he show after he leaves?  An ad thanking Akron (not Cleveland or the Cavs fans).

KG should be lauded, Lebron condemned.  I'm not from Cleveland or a Cavs fan and I have as much animosity towards James and his free agency as any Ohio native.  I understand about showing the other side of the backlash, and playing devil's advocate, but this article is absurd.

Since: Aug 7, 2010
Posted on: August 7, 2010 2:52 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Garnett was more of a veteran, but he was also one of the best power forwards in the league. Garnett averaged over 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1-2 blocks/steals while in Minnesota, on his good seasons. Not to mention possessing the best back-to-the-basket post up game of any power forward.

What we have here is one of the best ALL-AROUND players in the league, recognizing his disadvantages in playing for a historically insuperior team. LeBron James, is the best all-around player in the league. Maybe he recognizes that, not only will he be able to focus on winning, rebounding, blocking shots and playing defense, rather than always scoring. But at the SAME time, he's going to be able to play a year or to more if he wants because he's not having to make up a championship defense, with sub par defensive players, like in Cleveland. (Andy Varejao was their second best defender, and he came off the bench)

We need to recognize that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, if you want to argue a certain aspect, then fine. Best all-around player. Something KG was also pushing for at the time of his trade. But no matter where LeBron goes, he can have the best regular season team he wants because of his super-human stature and ability to avoid injury, therefore playing every night. The thing he is now recognizing, that if he has 15 years left of ball to play (to age 40), then he better get a start on winning those Championships. Because if he's going to catch Jordan, he'll already have to win a Championship in 40% of those remaining fifteen years.

Now that's a difficult challenge.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: August 7, 2010 1:21 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Are you kidding me? Lebron was traded?

Nope, not kidding, I believe they got 2 first round picks for him... unlike other players and just signing with another team, Boozer the last 2 teams he had he just dashed and signed with another team. As I said, he is a "bad guy" when it comes to specific teams... but I don't get the hate from out of nowhere. While Garnett and Allen went to the Celtics, they were revered as "wanting to win the big one" and I agreed. I think that James and Bosh are smarter to go to Miami younger due to being able to win more. It's about winning more then you think, and Wade wanted to stay in Miami. So it was either stay in Clev and have a chance of getting no one and a lot of teams improve around you and you stay the same. Or go to Chicago improve them, or Knicks with Amare have them vastly improved and try and get Wade from Miami. (With Bosh not fitting in) The Miami situaion fit the best tow in, with Wade already having a ring, able to get Bosh as well and having a defensive PG in Chalmers who doesn't need to have the ball in his hands.  I'd say that they made a good decision to win. We don't even have to note Bosh, he made a great decision to leave Toronto to leave... sure stay and be loyal to a franchise that drafted you is great, and try to win as much as you can. These days they want to win it all. Why blame them? I'm a Hornets fan, in 2 years or less if Paul leaves because we can't put on a winning club for him that can challenge the Lakers then I won't have an issue. If somehow the Hornets push for a championship in the next 2 years and he still leaves for NY who is a worse team then you can fault him. I would, but they have a better chance to win here.  As much as its silly they are one of the favorites if not the favorites.

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