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Garnett says players united

Losing the season remains an option

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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Kevin Garnett is in a dramatically different position during this NBA lockout than he was in 1998, when he had just completed his third season and was about begin an unprecedented six-year, $126 million contract.

Garnett, now 35, has one year left on his Celtics contract at $21 million, meaning a missed season could likely end his career. But in an interview with the Globe, he stressed that the NBA Players Association should remain united, even if it means the cancellation of the season.

The Celtics power forward also did not rule out returning to Boston after this season. While he has generally sidestepped questions regarding his future, Garnett made it clear that his love for the game remains strong. But he won’t stand in the way of the collective effort to get a fair deal from the owners.

“I think the players are prepared either way,’’ Garnett said. “If this thing doesn’t go the way everybody expects it to go and we have to miss the season, I think every player mentally put together a plan for themselves or communicated different options and are educating each other on that. So, I think each player at some point has put in his mind if we have to lose the season, this is the option for me. I’m no different from that. If we have to miss the season, then that’s what it is. It’s not what anybody wants but at the end of the day you have to stand your ground and let it be known that whatever you’re talking about, you’re serious about.’’

Garnett attended a players meeting just before the lockout began and stressed unity in his remarks. There was a perception that the veteran players caved in to the owners 13 years ago to preserve their careers. Garnett now wants to dispel any rumors of dissention.

“You know, ’98 was a learning experience for the young guys,’’ he said. “We had a lot of greats that were part of that whole process and what I took from it was that it wasn’t a whole lot of unity right there. Guys were all over the place as far as perspective. I can honestly say that from the perspective of the players [this time], that it’s very, very cohesive, very much on the same place, the communication, the dialogue is very open, so that’s a good thing.

“I just love the fact that we are like that and hopefully it sends a strong message that cooler heads can prevail and we can get something on common ground that’s best for both sides.’’

Garnett has deep ties to China. He has a lucrative shoe deal with Chinese sportswear company Anta and writes a blog for Chinese fans. But the Chinese Basketball Association recently mandated that any NBA player who signs a contract must commit to the full season, potentially dashing any hopes of Garnett playing there.

“I haven’t really explored none of that,’’ he said about playing overseas. “I haven’t really given it too much detailed thinking. That’s a decision I will have to make later on and be really, really true to what I’m doing.’’

This was the first time Garnett has spoken openly since the Eastern Conference semifinals, when the Celtics were beaten by the Heat in five games. Garnett showed flashes of brilliance in that series, but also was plagued by fatigue and lapses of ineffectiveness.

Ray Allen exercised the option to return to the Celtics and Jermaine O’Neal said he would return for the final year of his deal. So the Celtics are primed to make at least one more legitimate title run.

“I felt like we really didn’t get to compete full throttle with the team that was put together,’’ he said. “I thought we had an ailing Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal] and we got beat by a better team and that’s Miami. We take our hats off, that’s what it was. This upcoming season I think that obviously we need some young components, but whatever team we build, come postseason I have a lot of faith in our system and our coach and just how we do things in Boston. If we’re healthy I think we have a strong chance to beat anybody. But health is always the issue with anything in sports. I look forward to competing and trying to win a second ring.’’

Garnett revealed that he is considering playing past next season. He will be a free agent at 36 and may have to accept a lesser role for the retooling Celtics, but he said he wants to play in Boston.

“I want to finish my career as a Celtic,’’ he said. “This is it. I don’t plan on bouncing from team to team, that’s not really the plan. Hopefully, God willing, I can finish my career out with a classful organization as Boston. I don’t want to downgrade. I want to continue to be where I’m at. This is the first option and hopefully the only option.’’

When asked if he would play past next season, Garnett said with a giggle: “My body and I gotta actually have a one-on-one to see future-wise where I’m at and what I want to do. So, I will make that decision.’’

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

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