"I said, early on in the lockout, that this was the contract that changed the landscape," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik says. "This was the one where owners said something had to be done. The magnitude of Garnett's contract indicated the whole thing was out of control."
"I think most owners looked at the contract and said, 'This is where it's going,' " Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh says. "There was no leverage on the side of the team. None."
"You had a new, inexperienced owner overpaying to keep a star," another owner says. "That's how most owners saw it. At the same time, though, they looked at their own situations. What was going to happen when the next class of rookies came up for extensions, Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, Antoine Walker in Boston?" The owners took advantage of an option to reopen the agreement after three years, and they shut down operations until a new contract was reached. Under the new one, there is a cap on salaries for all players. If Garnett were to sign now, the maximum he would receive would be $71 million over six years. He made roughly $60 million more by signing when he did. No, he made more than that. Much more.
"He's grandfathered into the agreement," Fleisher says. "When he comes up for his next contract-when he's 28, at the top of his ability—he can re-sign for 105 percent of his salary in the preceding year. His salary that year is going to be [$28 million]."
The contract went into effect when the NBA resumed action in February. (Garnett played last season on the third year of his original deal.) The kid is having a terrific season. At week's end he was averaging 20.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 44 assists per game. He has had to handle some serious alterations to the team's foundation, though. Free-agent forward Tom Gugliotta left in the off-season for the Phoenix Suns. Marbury, partly because he knew he forever would be No. 2 in the Minnesota operation, partly because he wanted to get back to the East Coast, forced his way to the New Jersey Nets in a midseason trade. The kid, working with replacements such as forward Joe Smith and point guard Terrell Brandon, has kept the T-Wolves rolling. Through Sunday they were 22-23 and had a chance to make the playoffs for the third straight year.
Seldom seen on television due to the networks' fascination with brand-name teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, Garnett has become a modern rarity: an underhyped superstar. He is an undeniable force on the floor, an animated presence on offense and defense. In a game against the San Antonio Spurs in February he guarded David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr at different times. Garnett might be the most versatile player in basketball. He even has grown an inch, to 7 feet, although he still is listed at 6'11".
Garnett's success straight from high school encouraged other kids to go to the NBA straight from high school. Two kids followed in 1996, led by Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. One more went into the league from high school in 1997 and three in '98. It is not the greatest trend. Even Fleisher would encourage most kids to go to college.
"Kevin is an aberration," Fleisher says. "I've never seen anyone else his age with his maturity, his skill level, his enthusiasm and his size. The mistake most young men make is in thinking they're going to have the same growth level as Kevin. I suppose Kobe finally is breaking through, but the effect Kevin has on a game is much greater than Kobe's. Kobe isn't 7 feet tall."
Garnett owns a house now, a bigger place for the OBF to reside, and is planning an even bigger house. He is using Jimmy Jam's architect. He owns assorted cars and toys. When neighbors complained about the noise made by his go-karts, he bought 14 acres in the woods. He also bought off-road ATVs for his friends. I shine, you shine. He likes to watch Bug and Artie and the other guys buzz around. After a day of practice, he goes to watch them play basketball. He says they won't let him play with them because he's "too bossy."
During the lockout the OBF took some trips around the country. The members called the trips Operation Go-Hard. They would fly from Minneapolis to Las Vegas for two days, then to Los Angeles for two days, over to New York for two days, down to Atlanta for two days, maybe stop off in South Carolina for two days, then come home. Garnett says that for this summer they're thinking of expanding the itinerary. Maybe Paris. Maybe Italy.