After high hopes, Garnett era ends with a whimper
Posted: Monday July 30, 2007 9:58PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 4:24PM
With his defunct-then-revived Timberwolves 2.0 trade of superstar forward Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, Kevin McHale has solidified his status as a basketball hero.
Back in his native Minnesota, sadly, all McHale will have done, in gifting his franchise player to old Celtics buddy Danny Ainge, is cement the Garnett era of Wolves history officially and forever as a failure. In a losing battle over 12 years to stock Minnesota's roster around Garnett with a supporting cast worthy of more than one run at a championship, McHale has fired his final bullet, which is a shame, since honor and tradition suggest that disgraced leaders save that last slug for the privacy of their own quarters.
It was not supposed to end this way.
A dozen seasons of unsurpassed versatility, fearsome intensity and dazzling efficiency from Garnett -- statistics, sure, but defense too, and loyalty rare among his pro athlete peers -- got squandered on McHale's watch. Pick your preferred reason: a) McHale's casual work ethic, especially early in his tenure; b) his disdain for agents, the very folks who could deliver help; c) a habit of working more with players on the practice court than on the phones or on scouting excursions so vital to his job; or d) sheer hamhandedness in signing off on the Wolves' crippling and crooked Joe Smith deal, while tossing first-round picks into later trades like they were tips for the barristas.
Whichever, alone or in combination, McHale's team-building skills undermined what he and Garnett set out to accomplish. What they wound up with was eight postseason appearances, two series won, a 17-30 playoff record, oodles of impressive stats, a Hall of Fame-worthy career, three consecutive lottery finishes, four head coaches in a span of 23 months, an erosion of trust and respect between the Kevins and now this, a likely whimper of an exit.
No, it was not supposed to end this way at all.
The only reason it is, or can, is that the Wolves so lowered the bar of expectations that they inadvertently prepped their fans for this downer. Did it in record time as well. Seven months ago, with a 20-20 record, coach Dwane Casey got fired because winning the Northwest Division title was starting to look a little unrealistic. Now, after a 12-30 stagger to the end, they suddenly are in full rebuilding mode, selling off their most valuable asset for dimes on the dollar.
All to the sound of crickets in a market gone passionately apathetic. If the Celtics, with Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce, suddenly are relevant again, the Wolves were headed toward another irrelevant season in the Twin Cities with or without their Big Ticket.
In fact, when a team insider was asked what this deal might mean to the fan base, he sounded genuinely hurt as he said: "What fan base?'' Tickets hadn't been selling well with Garnett still on the roster anyway -- there has been a palpable "KG fatigue'' at Target Center the past two seasons, not unlike the been-there, seen-him boredom that set in among Philadelphia fans toward Allen Iverson near the end -- so how many fewer might they sell with him gone? Subtract his salary ($46 million over the next two seasons, another $80 million to $100 million for an extension) and, from a business standpoint, dumping Garnett for expiring contracts, future draft picks and young guys makes a lot of sense.
From a basketball standpoint? Not so much. Assuming that most of the details that have been reported are correct, the pieces coming back to Minnesota range from promising to unproven to suspect, with a little redundancy thrown in.