MINNEAPOLIS — The most poignant moment in Kevin Garnett’s retirement video comes when he looks toward the Target Center rafters, uttering “Man,” almost in disbelief that a 21-year career was finally coming to an end.
“We going to be all right, man,” he says. “I don’t expect this to be easy. But so far so good.”
Garnett may have been talking to the Minnesota pups he spent the last season and a half mentoring. He may have been talking to his adoring fan base. And he may have been talking to himself as he braces for a life that doesn’t revolve around basketball for the first time since he was a little boy.
Three days after Garnett made his big announcement, the Timberwolves gathered to open a season full of promise and sounded determined to carry his fiery torch forward.
“He’s a Hall of Famer, been in the league so long,” forward Andrew Wiggins said Monday, a day before the opening of training camp. “He came back to mentor us players. No one else is here to do that for us. Now we’ve got to go out on our own. “
The Wolves are moving forward with a roster that includes nine players with three years or less of experience. The late Flip Saunders brought Garnett back in a trade with Brooklyn in February 2015 because the team was so young and needed some veteran leadership. They gravitated to his charismatic approach and incredible understanding of the game, but have grown tired of having their struggles justified by their lack of experience.
“When KG retired, I was like, ‘It’s time for us to step up and start winning some games,'” forward Shabazz Muhammad said. “That’s the same thing KG would say. The ‘young’ thing is getting kind of old for us.”
Garnett announced his retirement on Friday, and it is entirely possible he won’t be heard from publicly for quite some time. He once said he would disappear from the spotlight after he left and that those looking for him would have to start combing YMCA pickup games in Malibu. The Timberwolves hope he will remain in the fold in some capacity, at least long enough for them to honor him as the greatest player in franchise history.
“There’s usually a point where when a player does finish up, he takes a step back, gathers himself and then you move forward from there,” new coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Whatever he decides to do, I’m sure he will be a great success at it because of the drive that he has, who he is as a person, his intelligence.”
His No. 21 jersey will one day hang in the Target Center rafters, right next to the No. 2 of his close friend Malik Sealy, who died in a car accident 16 years ago. When that happens may be up to him.
“I would hope that there is something that he would want to do with us so that we can recognize him for the wonderful career he had and our appreciation for him,” owner Glen Taylor told The Associated Press. “That’s something we can do before the start of the season and work that out. I’m looking forward to doing that, but I think it’s yet to come up in our discussions.”
These are sensitive times in the relationship between the franchise and the icon. Tension surrounded the negotiation of Garnett’s buyout — the same arrangement Tim Duncan secured with the Spurs this summer. It was the product of Garnett’s lack of trust in Taylor, which originated from a bitter parting when the Wolves traded Garnett to the Celtics in 2007.
Saunders was able to rebuild the bridge and orchestrate what appeared to be a fairy tale ending to Garnett’s career. Garnett had hoped to own a piece of the Wolves and wield influence over the franchise’s major basketball decisions.
But the Wolves had to move forward after Saunders died last October, and after Taylor brought in two minority partners this summer, the odds of Garnett one day joining the ownership group were dramatically reduced.
In a potentially positive sign, Garnett’s goodbye video featured him walking alone in an empty Target Center and closed with a picture of his black Timberwolves jersey. And everyone in the franchise hopes that this time around the sides will finish on good terms.
“I always told him when the season was coming to an end that he could leave on his own terms and that no matter what I will always be his little brother,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “I told him whatever he decides, I’m always for him.”