Garnett thrilled with ‘fairy tale’ return to Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — It’s been noted and detailed and regurgitated throughout the past few days the Timberwolves were in for some bewilderment upon Kevin Garnett’s return to the Twin Cities.
Yet it was the franchise’s transcendent superstar who dealt with mass amounts of culture shock Tuesday before his official re-introduction to the basketball community he lifted to unprecedented — and since unmatched — echelons.
Re-acquired at the trade deadline last week, Garnett barely recognized coach and president Flip Saunders’ daughter Rachel Saunders — who usually had a pacifier in her mouth during Garnett’s heyday, but now works in the team offices — when he showed up and started shaking hands Tuesday. He noticed Saunders’ son, Ryan, Garnett’s former unofficial personal attendant, now has a deeper voice than Da Kid himself. And he barely recognized downtown Minneapolis, what with the traffic changes and restaurant closings and openings that have occurred since April 9, 2007 — the last time Garnett wore No. 21 for Minnesota.
Standing next to Saunders after a 25-minute lovefest with the local media that began with Star Tribune writer Sid Hartman literally bowing toward him and ended with Garnett denying claims he’d throw a teammate’s phone in the toilet if he was on it too much in the locker room before games, "KG" held up a new Wolves jersey with that same, iconic numeral. It featured no trees or green trim, but the name on the back sent beams of nostalgia out of the Target Center, through airwaves and Internet connections and into the hearts of those who watched Garnett make this old barn rock during the club’s only winning seasons to date.
With his house on Lake Minnetonka still there, Garnett has made a return trip here every summer. But as of Tuesday, The Big Ticket is officially back. And, it sounds like, for good.
"I figure if LeBron can go home, (expletive), why can’t I?" Garnett asked with a giant grin.
The 38-year-old crushed his first public appearance with the Wolves since being traded to Boston in 2007 like he used to annihilate opposing power forwards during eight straight playoff berths from 1996-2004, culminating with the 15-time All-Star’s 2004 NBA MVP accolades and a conference finals appearance. He even became choked up when discussing the opportunity to end his storied career here — a place he never wanted to leave, he says.
"I wasn’t really happy in how I left here," said Garnett, who despite expressing his desire to stay was dealt to Boston as Minnesota entered the first of several rebuilding phases since his departure. He won a championship with the Celtics a year later.
"My goals since I’ve been in the league was to win a championship, and I wanted it to be here in the Twin Cities. I’ve always wanted that. I wanted to be a part of that the first time this franchise went over the hump, and I got a taste of that in the Western Conference (finals). I’ve been thirsty ever since. Once you get that taste, you never lose that.
"It’s perfect. If you have a … fairy tale, this is a perfect ending to it."
For the next several weeks, Garnett will mentor Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and the rest of Minnesota’s young core while providing some depth at power forward. He’ll start Wednesday at home before an anticipated sellout crowd, revel in that night’s homecoming party, then immerse himself in bringing the same intensity and leadership that made him so revered during his first go-round in Minnesota.
He got back to it right away, showing up at the team’s Lifetime Fitness practice-facility weight room before anyone else Tuesday morning and chiding center Nikola Pekovic for not hustling back on defense during practice.
"I won’t … settle for mediocre," Garnett said.
As for his playing future, Garnett — whose contract expires after the season — says he’ll "listen to his body" and make a decision this summer. Fans will see only flashes of the Kevin Garnett they remember; the one who holds almost every meaningful individual Timberwolves franchise record. This one averaged 6.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 20.3 minutes per game for Brooklyn this season.
The Wolves believe they can sign him to a two-year deal, but whether or not he plays after this campaign, Garnett plans to be around.
Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to someday own the team. This time, he sat next to Saunders, a current minority owner who one day could be in a group Garnett — who’s built a considerable amount of wealth during his 20 NBA seasons — assembles to purchase the club from current majority owner Glen Taylor.
"That is the goal," Garnett said. "At some point, I want to understand ownership and try to get into that and bring a championship to this city. That’s been my goal since I became a Wolf."
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