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 2, 2006
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:52 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Obviously enough.

But the difference is simple: KG was seeking a championship, and was ready to blend into the (parquay) woodwork to do it.

Lebron bills himself as the KING, as JordanII, etc.: but his move doesn't connote leadership or large championship heart.  Like KG , he can get his ring; but it will never mean "best of his generation."

KG never laid claim to such broad bravura as James projects, so shouldn't be judged in same register.

Since: Sep 11, 2007
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:47 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Lebron is a superstar entering his prime, KG was a superstar who was exiting his prime- hence two different situations.  Also, the Wolves didn't lead the league in wins two years in a row before he left.  Ridiculous article

Since: Apr 2, 2010
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:46 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I agree with everything you said.  Kevin was not in his prime when he left the Timberwolves but Lebron is just reaching his prime.  These are two very different situations.

Since: Jan 30, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:41 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

When KG joined the Celts the only player who was in his "prime" was Pierce, and he was at the end of it.  Both KG and Allen were aging players who wanted a championship before they retired and once KG was on the Celts only THEN did the MANAGEMENT go and trade for Allen.  The 3 did not sit down and decide to do this together, unlike Wade, James, and Bosh.

They were players who were brought together by TEAM OFFICIALS in order to create a "Big Three" so that they could get a championship and the Celtics could make money.

Wade, James, and Bosh are ALL in the prime of their careers and this will and forever be Wade's team down in South Beach.  The "fans" down there have seen Wade, firsthand, develop into a superstar and will flock and praise him much more than they do the other two; Lebron could have had that in Cleveland.  The reason Boston flocked towards the new-comer KG is because he was an aging veteran, who was well-respected, behaved, and was without a championship and was the "good guy" everyone was pulling for.  Lebron is a selfish and egotistical (i.e. "THE DECISION")player and will NEVER get the same respect and value that KG accumulated; that ALL the greats (MJ, Bird, Malone, Johnson, etc.) got because he left his HOMETOWN high and dry and needing to completely rebuild for the next decade.

Another example: Karl Malone was a member of the Jazz almost his whole career, but at the tail end, when he was breaking down and was without a ring he went to the Lakers because the were a perennial contender.  Did the masses complain about him switching teams???  NO.  They didn't because he had already established himself as a dominant player who had played for rings, but never won one.  It was his swan song with the Lakersand most wanted him to get his ring, hell Jerry Sloan wanted terribly to have Malone get his ring.

What Lebron did to Cleveland was heinous and inconsiderate.  The great players play with the team that drafts them or signs them early in their careers and try to win rings with THAT TEAM.  Only after considerable years of trying to win with the same team and building reputation, can a superstar change teams and have the public accept it.  In short, Lebron deserves all the hate and disgust thats flowing towards him and KG did not.

Since: Mar 7, 2009
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:33 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

not a well thought out article

Since: Jan 24, 2008
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:33 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

I Think you forgot that garnett was 30 when he was TRADED to the Celtics....he played a DECADE with Minnesota....lebron played with 6 or 7 years....KG was declining and he knew at the same time KG was never claiming to be the chosen please dont compare the two situations...there absolutely is no double standard here

Since: Jan 1, 2007
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:24 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

This is NOT a double standard.

There are OBVIOUS differences here.

1. KG gave Min his prime. LBJ Bounced out when he was 25.

2. KG stayed in Min, what 12 years ? Lebron stayed, what 6 ?

3. KG was never gonna be the next MJ, or in that greatest ever conversation. LBJ whether to his liking or not gets put in that conversation prematurely all the time. LBJ can't be the best ever unless he beats the best ever, like Jordan did in dominating fashion on a return basis.

Since: Mar 17, 2009
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:22 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

Garnett was traded for 5 players INCLUDING a budding young all-star in Big Al Jefferson.  There is no comparison at all, Lebron's team was a perennial contender, Minnesota was a dog poo team with a management group that bungled one deal after the next.

The only similiarity is that they both wanted to go somewhere where they could win.  Lebron threw in the towel on his team after PLANNING this maneuver during the 2010 season.  If you don't think that the conversation between Bron, Bosh, and Wade didn't happen DURING the season then you are amazingly gullible.

Any championship Lebron wins is as useless as a Yankees WS victory.  Well, maybe not that useless as The Heat at least engineered the team at some facsimile of the rest of the league's payroll.

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:18 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

It was a well written piece - but I don't think it entirely considers what the "legacy" of the players is.

I am speaking for myself here....

The move to Miami will not affect LeBron James' ability to be a HOFer...  It doesn't mean people won't look back on him and consider him a great player.

However, I have heard more than once that LeBron James wants to be considered the best player ever.  That was not Garnett's quest - and that is what I think will be affected.  I think this is the "legacy" people are referring to.  At least that's what impact it has on my opinion.

To me, he will have to do something really special in Miami to even enter GOAT territory.  And I mean 40ppg and 7 rings special.  Had he remained in Cleveland and just stayed the course I might have been more willing to put him at or near a Michael Jordan pedestal.

Since: Oct 24, 2007
Posted on: August 6, 2010 10:08 pm

Of leadership, LeBron, and KG

First of all I will say that I am a KG fan and have been since I can remember. Kg played for 12 years in Minnesota on teams that were filled with trash players. The closest he came to having a halfway decent team was with Casell and Sprewell, niether of which should be considered difference makers for that team. Garnett stilled carried that team to the playoffs and game 7 of the Western Confernece Finals, sure Casell and Spreewell helped but by the time they reached the most important games in the season Casell was hurting and Spreewell was acting like the piece of trash he is. But Garnett didn't give up even when his team had, he didn't shake his head and act like he didn't care that his season and best chance for a ring with Minnesota was probably over. He did the same thing he had been doing all his career, gritting his teeth and trying to give his team one last push to make it into the Finals. And he stayed there for four years afterward, with teams full of players that don't deserve to be an NBA roster. Don't campare KG to Lebron. It isn't even close Lebron may have all the talent in the world and when his career is over lots of people will probably consider him to be the greatest player of all time, which is sad because he shouldn't be. He's not a leader nor has he ever been a leader. Jordan was a leader, Magic was a leader, Bird was a leader, Abdul-Jabbar was a leader and Garnett was/is a leader. All Lebron is is a bigger Kobe Bryant, albeit a lesser ballhog than Bryant. He was never the leader in Cleveland except by public opinion. I doubt his teammates respected him at all. And Garnett is damn sure a leader in Boston. Who else do you think runs that defense? Peirce? Hell no. Allen? Not a chance. Rondo? Maybe in a few years but not now. There is nobody in the league who is more fierce on and about defense then Garnett. He is defense and has been the standard for defense in the league for the past 10 years. The only reason he never got recognized for it before e joined the Celtics is because his offense was the most important part of his game to the public, they didn't pay attention to his defensive skills until he didn't have to do as much on offense. So no Lebron and Garnett are not similar, and shame on you for even suggesting it. Garnett left Minnesota with relunctance when he had to, after he had tried for 12 years to bring them a trophy, after 12 years of working with one of the worst GMs of all time. He left quietly, didn't make a big deal about it to the media, just packed his things and went on his way without insulting every fan of the Timberwolves on the way out of town. Sure they were upset that he was leaving but they understood why he was doing it. Lebron did it loudly, slapping Cavs fans in the face and giving them the big ol' finger on the way out of town. He isn't worth mentioning in the same sentence with Garnett as far as leadership and intergrity go.

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