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Garnett back, a bit uneasy being Green

By Gary Washburn
September 29, 2009

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WALTHAM - He’s not “The Kid’’ anymore. Playing with youthful enthusiasm and keeping himself in premium condition perhaps has extended Kevin Garnett’s career, but it couldn’t prevent a troublesome bone spur from growing in his knee the past few years.

Garnett admitted yesterday as the Celtics met the media before today’s official opening of training camp that his right knee injury last season was more severe than expected. What was anticipated as a one-month rehabilitation turned into him missing most of the second half of the 2008-09 season and the playoffs.

Coach Doc Rivers declared that Garnett has no limitations when camp begins in Newport, R.I., but Garnett got a glimpse of his eventual NBA mortality when he was forced to miss the postseason and the enter the offseason precariously rehabilitating the knee.

Save for the 1998-99 lockout season, when Garnett played in 47 games, he had suited up for at least 71 in 12 seasons before being limited to 57 last season. The injury is a sign that even the young get older. The skinny kid who came straight out of Farragut Academy and was tabbed as part of the league’s post-Jordan future is now 33.

Just three years ago, in his final season in Minnesota, Garnett logged 39 minutes per game, carrying the team on his bony shoulders. Now, with the Celtics’ acquisition of Rasheed Wallace, and the continued development of Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, not as much may be expected of Garnett.

He participated in five-on-five games for the first time since the injury last week and teammate Paul Pierce said Garnett “looked like what you expected. I think he was comfortable. I just think it’s all about him knocking off the rust from not being out there for so long, but in my opinion, he looked good. It was like a breath of fresh air.’’

But Garnett spoke yesterday about being humbled by the injury, surprised that his knee was so damaged and slightly unsure when he will return to vintage form. But he said he will work arduously to get there.

“I’m going full-blast,’’ he said. “I don’t think when you get in camp you go [less than all-out] or anything like that. Doc and I have talked about time and taking it easy, listening to [trainer] Ed Lacerte and the doctors and what they’re telling me. So I’m being patient with that.’’

Garnett would not reveal the extent of the injury other than to say it was a bone spur that was larger than he’d thought. But when pressed, he said the whole situation forced him to take his health more seriously. His body hadn’t betrayed him much in 14 years in the NBA. He has been remarkably healthy despite years of pounding in the paint.

“I think everything was pretty much straightforward with the procedures,’’ he said. “Everything has been right on schedule. No surprises other than the severeness of it. I didn’t know it was that bad.

“I won’t get into it. They evaluate you from to A to Z to see what the problem is, really. It was pretty severe and the best thing about it is I got it out of the way. I’m looking forward to the season.’’

He had to watch as the Celtics bowed out in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a physical series against the Magic. They could have used his leadership, perimeter shooting, and defensive experience against Dwight Howard. Instead, Garnett was a glorified cheerleader and the Celtics declined from a championship defender to a team unsure of itself.

Garnett restores the team’s swagger, its confidence. Pierce was in Boston during the down times and didn’t win all that much before Garnett’s arrival. Ray Allen had some success in Milwaukee and Seattle, but nothing to the extent of 2008. They are more self-assured with Garnett back on their side.

Yesterday, Allen and Garnett waited for Pierce to arrive at a news conference table to complete the Big Three. The Celtics, for the first time since March, were whole again.

They may not have the same Garnett, however. It may take him a few weeks - or months - to fully regain trust in his body. For the first time in his career, Garnett has to be concerned with more than just leading his team to prosperity. He has to be thinking somewhat about how much he truly has left.

Today, Garnett hopefully will begin causing any doubts to dissipate when he participates in his first training camp workout. Toward the final minutes of dealing with the media yesterday, Garnett was himself again, walking around happily taking photos, reading network radio promotions, and shaking hands with anyone involved in the process. He introduced himself as “Kevin,’’ as if the team photographer needed an introduction.

But in a sense, he was reintroducing himself back into our consciousness. Garnett is back, in a uniform, not in a blazer and sweater vest.

“I think last year did one thing for us. If anything it humbled us,’’ said Garnett, who may well have been talking about himself. “It showed that team is everything. Not one or two players can get things done.

“I’m eager to see how we come in, our minds and how we all are in camp and everything. This is all bonding. This is the time where all the guys that we haven’t played with - ’Quis [Marquis Daniels], Rasheed [Wallace], and all the new guys we have - we try to put the pieces together and see how they fit.

“But yeah, we’re humbled.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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