Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins announced on Monday night that Kevin Garnett will be the starting power forward and play 15 minutes per game this season if healthy.
Hollins appeared at Deron Williams’ Celebrity Dodge Basketball event at Basketball City and said of Garnett, “There is nobody in the gym that I would put in his place. He has earned the right to have that opportunity to be the starter from Day One. Somebody has to knock him out, it’s got to be like a heavyweight fight. I don’t really see that happening.”
Hollins said more specifically, “If he’s healthy, and producing, he’s going to play. How many minutes? I don’t know. But he is not going to play 15 or 16 minutes. I can guarantee you that. If he is playing and starting, he is going to be out there.”
This plan sounds awfully similar to the Nets’ plan for Garnett last season. He started the season as the starting power forward and played 15-20 minutes per game without much success for himself or the team, which started 10-21. He played his best basketball of the season in January and February when he shifted over to center after Brook Lopez went down to injury. The starting five of Garnett at center, Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston as the forwards, Deron Williams at point guard, and Joe Johnson at shooting guard led the Nets on a run back into the playoff picture.
The minutes limit was ill-conceived because it was not based on how Garnett was playing or how tough a game was – it was based solely on minutes, which might not be the best measure. There were times Garnett was playing great, in a rhytym, but was still pulled at a time in the game that was predetermined. There were other instances in which Garnett did not have it and should have been pulled, but stayed in until the appointed time.
In addition to the minutes limit, Ganrett did not play one of back-to-backs. These measures made no difference as he was out the entire month of March with back spasms. He played in 54 games, and averaged a career-low 6.5 points in 20.5 minutes per game and grabbed 6.6 rebounds per game, second-lowest in his career to his rookie season, 1995-96, in which he averaged 6.3 rebounds per game.
In the playoffs, he became a liability at times, especially in Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors. He entered the game with three minutes remaining and the Nets up ten, and Toronto ran every play at him, knowing he could not catch up with their young players, and the Nets lead was down to a point. The Nets ultimately held on, but the takeaway was worry about KG.
With the Nets down 3-2 in the series with the Raptors, Garnett stepped up in Games 6 and 7. He played 27 minutes in Game 6 and scored 13 points with 5 rebounds. In Game 7 in Toronto, he had 12 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. Those two performances showed he is better when he’s out there more, that it may take him a while to warm up, kind of like a pitcher that is throwing harder at his 90th pitch than his 10th.
It did not carry through to the Miami series, which was a tough one for the Nets and Garnett. KG was held scoreless in the first game and had just 4 rebounds. He had 4 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2. In Game 3, the only Nets win in the series, he had 10 points on 5-for-6 from the field and 7 rebounds. KG had 8 points and 7 rebounds in Game 4, and scored just two points on 1-for-3 shooting with 8 rebounds in Game 5.
Garnett laid low for the early part of the offseason, which was tumultuous for the Nets with the unexpected departures of Head Coach Jason Kidd, Garnett’s longtime teammate Paul Pierce. Garnett and Piece played six seasons together in Boston before coming to Brooklyn together in the blockbuster trade in the summer of 2013. Garnett waived his no-trade clause with the Celtics to come to Brooklyn, and now he is here alone and Pierce is a member of the Washington Wizards.
Garnett ultimately decided to return for this season, his 20th in the NBA, and the final season of his contract, which is worth $12 million.
Hollins met with him after he decided to return, and he put Garnett’s offseason into perspective on Monday night. “I understood why he wasn’t around and why he wasn’t communicating. When you get to this stage and have to make big life-changing decisions, it should be alone and with your family…The decision has to be his. He is a Hall of Fame player and he deserves Hall of Fame respect,” said Hollins.
Hollins said of speaking to Garnett about retirement, “I didn’t even ask him. It doesn’t really matter. You’re pregnant or you’re not pregnant. He looks good… I would assume that if he decided to come back and if in fact it is his last year, he would want to make it his best.”
The sad part about this situation is the Nets never got to have Garnett play for them in his prime. All of Garnett’s big moments came in Minnesota and Boston, but it is the Nets who have to deal with all the issues that come with a player in the twilight of his career. A parallel is Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, who had nothing left in his last season for the Lakers in 1988-89, but they were soothed by the fact that he won them five rings.