Return shows desire
Now that the Celtics have agreed with Kevin Garnett on a three-year contract, according to an NBA source, they can rely on their security blanket for the transition from the Big Three Era to the post-Big Three Era.
Garnett may never finish out that contract, but his long-term commitment to the organization is a sign that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge plans to squeeze every drop of usefulness out of Garnett and Paul Pierce, and Garnett’s comparatively moderate salary will help the team move forward.
It was obvious for the survival of the Celtics and the retaining of Garnett that he couldn’t come close to the $21 million salary he earned in 2011-12. While his pride remains his most identifiable trait, Garnett accepted nearly a 50 percent pay cut, a sign of his desire to play for the Celtics and Doc Rivers, and to prove his NBA worthiness into his late 30s.
So that emotional embrace near the end of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat was just a front. Garnett fully intends to return and take a bite out of the defending champion Heat again, and perhaps again.
Will he last until he is 39? Maybe not, but the extension allows him to continue his streak of never being a free agent, adds to his personal wealth, and also gives him an opportunity to work with the Celtics’ young big men and have a pivotal role in the future of the franchise.
Garnett has said that when he retires, he will disappear into the darkness. He won’t don one of those vested suits and coach or hold the Kevin Garnett Expletive-Free Big Man Camp at Pepperdine near his home in Malibu.
The only way Garnett will remain in the spotlight is in his large Chinese-made sneakers and that baggy Celtics uniform, so Saturday’s agreement is an indication that the life is difficult to give up. Garnett is not ready to put on his horn-rimmed glasses and walk away just yet.
As for the Celtics, they now have their key frontcourt piece for at least the next two seasons, and the drafting of Fab Melo and perhaps a free agent addition will provide the support to the middle that Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal couldn’t.
The Celtics won’t be major free agent players if they are able to bring back Brandon Bass and Ray Allen, but Allen’s return appears highly questionable now that the Heat and Grizzlies appear ready to make him offers.
The plan to bring the band back for at least two more seasons may encourage Allen to return, but he was clearly unhappy with how the Avery Bradley situation played out, with Allen suddenly coming off the bench.
For Ainge, there was no reason to blow up the Celtics quickly. They came within one quarter of reaching the NBA Finals against the league’s best team. How easily the Heat disposed of the Thunder was a confidence booster and wake-up call to Celtics management about how talented they truly were, even without Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, and Bradley.
But the Celtics cannot rely so heavily on Garnett. Rivers’s 5-5-5 plan with his minutes will have to apply for a full 82-game season. Garnett and Rivers will have to have a serious talk about playing time. At age 36, having spent almost half his life in the NBA, Garnett will need to be preserved for the postseason.
His relationship with Rivers is what encouraged Garnett to return. He wasn’t going to sign with the Lakers and play for Mike Brown, though he did consider the Spurs and Gregg Popovich.
Garnett is a loyal dude, and the fact that the Celtics acquired him in 2007 with an opportunity to win a championship as the lure was never forgotten. His future plans were clouded in mystery this past season. He often discussed retirement but never offered specifics.
After Game 7 in Miami, he bolted AmericanAirlines Arena without speaking to the media and returned to Malibu to give his future serious thought. He promised to give Ainge an answer in time for free agency, and he lived up to his word.
Garnett has fulfilled his commitment to the Celtics for five years and he says he’s ready for three more. He may never reach the end of that deal, but the gesture speaks volumes about the future of the Celtics, Garnett’s desire to play, and his legacy in Boston.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org