He’s not going to do it himself. But Kevin Garnett’s teammates are happy to campaign on behalf of the Big Ticket in the race for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.
“You never know unless you play with him, how valuable he is to the team,” said center Kendrick Perkins, who has seen his numbers rise this season by playing with Garnett in the Celtics frontcourt. “Everything he does. The energy he brings. It’s more than just him putting the ball in the basket. When he’s on the court he controls the whole court. He controls the whole floor. Everything revolves around Kevin. And he makes it that way.”
Garnett is averaging 19.0 points and 9.4 rebounds this season, down from his career averages of 20.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. But Celtics coach Doc Rivers is saving KG for the playoffs, using him for just 33.7 minutes per game, down from his career average of 38 minutes. It’s not a stretch to think Garnett could get that 1.4 points and 1.8 rebounds if he played an extra four minutes per contest.
The MVP award is not an exact science. There is probably more than one deserving player every year. This year, the general consensus is that there are four (Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and LeBron James). Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who coaches two-time former MVP Steve Nash, knows a little something about the award.
“There will be five or six guys that you can make an argument for the MVP,” D’Antoni said before Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics. “There will be two or three that will be whittled down. And then in the end, half the group’s going to be ticked off because somebody [else] got the MVP. You can’t just say ‘That’s the guy.’ It never is like that.”
It won’t help Garnett’s cause that he refuses to toot his own horn (teammate Rajon Rondo says Garnett “probably wants a championship before MVP”), but Garnett has plenty of other people to do that for him.
One of them is his coach.
“Just point-blank, our record,” Rivers said of why Garnett is deserving. “I always thought that’s what you go on. That’s all you have to say: Just look at our record (56-15 as of Wednesday).”
D’Antoni also thinks that is valid criteria.
“If Boston has the best record, then you’ve got to talk about it. I just know KG has done an unbelievable job,” he said.
Another one of Garnett’s advocates are the home fans at the TD Banknorth Garden. The crowd chanted, “M-V-P, M-V-P” several times with Garnett at the foul line Wednesday night.
“Honestly, I’m trying to block it out to make the free throws, which is kind of sad,” Garnett said of hearing the chants. “Anytime fans show appreciation for what you do, that’s a good thing. At the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s not a bad thing. I used to say when I was younger that it’s kind of cool. But at the same time, as long as I make the free throws it’s even cooler.”
Garnett’s team-focus may ultimately doom him in the race for an award that is all about the individual.
“My MVP is sitting next to me,” Garnett said Wednesday night, immediately deflecting the discussion away from him and onto his team.
Sitting next to Garnett was Paul Pierce, who has als o had to sacrifice numbers for wins this season. Garnett and Pierce may end up losing MVP votes because they play on a team with three perennial All-Stars (the other is Ray Allen).
Pierce and Garnett provided one of the more candid and refreshing moments of the NBA season during Wednesday night’s press conference, each heaping praise on the other for his value to the team. It was evident both players have a deep admiration for each other.
“Paul does things that people really don’t see on the stat sheet,” said Garnett. “Even though he had one of his worst games probably shooting it [Feb. 22 in Phoenix], he distributed the ball. He got guys easy baskets. We were in that game. I think we were down early, but he was doing small things to get us back into it that people don’t see. When it’s time to take the game over, him with the ball, everybody on my team feels confident with that. Obviously we have three people that you can go to and pretty much secure a basket, but this the No. 1 option for a reason, and that’s why he’s an MVP.”
“You’re my MVP too,” Pierce said, rubbing the top of Garnett’s head to a laugh from the assembled media.
Pierce was then asked to make his case for Garnett as MVP of the league, but as Pierce was trying to speak, Garnett chimed in.
“Oh man, don’t even start,” said Garnett. “Shut up, man.”
“You have to understand where I came from a year ago,” he said. “For a team to win as many games as we won, it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t have imagined it. The whole face of the Celtics nation turned around when the trade happened with this guy. Everyone talks about the MVP and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here and I think that says a lot for everything. The mentality, from a day-to-day aspect, everything is changed from a year ago.”
“We changed it,” Garnett interrupted again. “We. He can talk all that bull[expletive] he wants. We helped change it. We.”
And that was it. Without resolving the MVP discussion, Pierce and Garnett left the room, playfully shoving each other like two kids on a playground.
It was just the way both of them wanted it.