Kevin Garnett is back, and looser than ever

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett

RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As last season’s ultimate conclusion drew near, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett became increasingly solemn. His answers were often drawn-out musings on the sport of basketball itself: in victory, he extolled the virtues of veteran leadership, confidence, and execution, and in loss, why the game seemed to be failing him and his teammates.

But after a season of reflection and will-he-won’t-he retirement speculation, Garnett unequivocally answered all questions Friday morning at Nets Media Day: he’s back, and more relaxed than ever.

“I was with (Nets strength and conditioning coach) Jeremy (Bettle) in the weight room, and (Nets trainer) Timmy (Walsh), and it had been so quiet,” Brook Lopez said, with a foreboding tone in his voice. “And then (Garnett) came back about two weeks ago. And it immediately changed. He was doing his normal talk and everything.”

“There was no hiding spot for me, either,” Lopez cracked. “I couldn’t get away from the guy.”

In his first appearance with the media since after Game 4 of the team’s five-game second-round matchup against the Miami Heat last season, a loose Garnett was filled with smiles and jokes. He looked at ease, relating a reporter’s shoes to the Wu-Tang Clan, happy with Lionel Hollins’s decision to say he’ll play a lot of minutes as a starting power forward — “I’m looking really excited about that now, right?” he said with a grin — and cracking on the rookies, giving the European Sergey Karasev and Bojan Bogdanovic private nicknames. “None that I would like to share … out loud … publicly … on the mic,” he said with a wink.

By the numbers, Garnett had an up-and-down last season in Brooklyn. He missed nearly 30 games for rest and back spasms, averaging 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game, and struggled to put together productive minutes near the end of the season. But he led the league in defensive rebound percentage, and his basketball IQ and vocality helped the team’s defense improve drastically with him on the floor.

“Chemistry is one of the things, I think, that’s (underrated) in this league,” Garnett said about last season’s production. “I’m not a primary guy here. I understood that coming here. I wasn’t trying to be what I was in Boston. Totally different situation. Obviously, totally different circumstances. I’m just looking to have a better year and enjoy the year. Last year, I was dealing with a bunch of stuff that I had never encountered. So this year, I’m just thinking, not only to enjoy the year, but make it a memorable one and be better.”

Garnett considered retiring, admitting he’s considered retirement after each of the last three seasons. “It’s always somewhere in there,” Garnett said of the thought. “But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50 I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a
person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”

Garnett is a free agent after this season, and he says he’s undecided about his future. “I like to come in each year and assess (my future),” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again — which is absurd — or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to
have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”

So rather than leave the game now — and $12 million on the table, probably the biggest reason of all — Garnett swooped into the Nets facility with his usual vigor and ferocity.

Lopez wasn’t the only player who noticed Garnett’s return. “He’s the life of the locker room,” Joe Johnson said of the 20-year veteran, only the fourth player to play 20 seasons in NBA history. “(He’s) a great leader, very vocal, and we need him, not only in the locker room but on the floor as well. He helps in so many ways. I’m glad he’s back.”

Garnett won’t be joined by longtime teammate Paul Pierce, who the Nets acquired with Garnett before the 2013-14 season in a blockbuster trade. Pierce, who was a free agent this offseason, signed a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards. “I was with him when all that was kind of going down, so I kind of had the inside,” Garnett said. “It was unfortunate, but it’s still fortunate Paul’s able to be in a great situation for he and his family. I wish him nothing but the best. But it’s bittersweet.”