Flip Saunders thinks Kevin Garnett could play past 40

Flip Saunders (left) and Kevin Garnett in 2006.
Flip Saunders (left) and Kevin Garnett in 2006. (AP)

Kevin Garnett looks ageless again, and the league has noticed.

“The way he played the last game (vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder), he might play another four years,” Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders opined about the 38-year-old Nets forward, half-joking at most.

Saunders and Garnett have a long history together. As Minnesota Timberwolves general manager, Saunders selected Garnett with the ninth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft. Then, hired as Timberwolves coach in December of that year, Saunders coached Garnett for nearly a decade until he was fired in 2005.

Garnett has 48,987 regular season minutes and 5,283 playoff minutes under his belt, starting his career as a teenager out of Farragut Academy High School and playing for the Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and for the last two seasons, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It’s interesting, because we went through the amount of minutes that bigs play in our league,” Saunders continued. “If you look at the people who have played over 40, there’s a lot of people. And if you look at his minutes, which you have to do, he came in at 19. Most of these other guys came in at 22. So they’ve played 9,000 more minutes just to start with because of college. When you look at the amount of minutes, he’s played a lot of minutes, but I think when you look at say with Kareem, and Karl Malone, and that, he’s played 10,000 less minutes than those guys, and that’s not even including what they did in college. So he might still have some tread on his tires.”

Garnett has averaged 25.7 minutes per game over Brooklyn’s first three games, a five-minute increase from last year’s strict minute restrictions under Jason Kidd, and sat most of the second half against the Thunder due to the blowout. He’s averaged 11.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in those three games, both upticks from last season both in raw totals and on per-minute basis.

He has often referred to himself as “not primary” in the offense, facilitating for others with screens and misdirections and spending his remaining energy picking his spots for open jumpers. It’s paid off: his 18-point, 14-rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons marked the first time he’d hit both of those numbers in a single game with the Nets.

Garnett’s future beyond this season is uncertain. His contract expires at the end of the year, and he’s spoken in terms of just enjoying this year. But though he’s unsure about his next step, he relishes in the fact that he’s made it this far.

“I told (Former Timberwolves VP of Basketball Operations) Kevin McHale when I first came in(to the league),” Garnett said before the season. “After my first practice. To be… kinda smart, he cracked a joke. I had a bunch of ice on me, and I was just turning 19 and I was hurting, I told him I wanted to be in this league half my life. He kind of giggled. He never knew what was inside. 19 years later, here we are!”

With Garnett’s ever-intense game preparation, Saunders wasn’t sure if he’d hear from Garnett today, but did speak with him over the summer and expects to make contact soon.

“Everybody here that knows KG knows that he’s going to play until he feels that he either can’t produce or he feels he’s not having fun,” Saunders added. “He has great passion for the game, that’s what I always respected about him, and he’s going to play as long as he continues to have that passion.”