Garnett seeking bigger trophy

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Seven years later, The Deal is looking smarter all the time.

It looked brilliant Monday when Kevin Garnett clutched his first NBA Most Valuable Player trophy.

He wore a white suit that had enough cloth to cover some of Minnesota's lakes. His chunky diamond earrings were blinding in the TV lights. He beamed, thanked the prep-to-pro pioneers who preceded him, and talked about the real prize on his mind: an NBA title.

''When I get that big, gold trophy, that's really going to solidify my journey here,'' Garnett said.

Garnett's journey has been defined by staggering numbers: a $126 million megadeal as a 21-year-old in 1997, a $100 million extension last October, and playing stats that compare favorably to Larry Bird.

It's also been defined by the Timberwolves' failure to put together the pieces of a championship.

The Deal didn't break the Wolves but it wasn't a bargain for them. Even as Garnett's scoring and rebounding average climbed each year he averaged a Bird-like 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game this year his salary weighed mightily on the Wolves' flexibility in the free-agent market.

They kept losing money and fading in the first round of the playoffs. Garnett was their rock, a great asset on the floor and in the community, but his salary was holding them down.

The Deal, constructed at the peak of the NBA's popularity, was reworked last fall to make it more bearable for the Wolves. They signed Garnett to a five-year, $100 million extension. The way the original and the extension were set up, he will drop from an NBA-high $28 million this season to about $16 million next season.

That's a $12 million paycut despite winning the MVP award.

Don't expect to hear Garnett complain. He's into winning not whining and he's hoping the Wolves will make a serious run in the playoffs this year or next.

Garnett, for all the dazzle of his diamonds and duds, is a throwback kind of guy, a serious player who is aware of the past and his place in the game. Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West would have enjoyed having The Kid with them on the court and in the locker room.

Garnett paid homage to Spencer Haywood, whose legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court paved the way for players to jump directly from high school to the NBA.

He gave credit to Kevin McHale, the Hall of Famer and Timberwolves general manager who had so much faith in him and worked so closely with him on the court. As fortunate as Garnett was to get the kind of contract he did seven years ago, he was luckier to have McHale mentoring his career.

McHale, built like Garnett, played with the Boston Celtics during Bird's three MVP seasons and saw him redefine the forward position. Then McHale watched the taller, stronger and more athletic Garnett redefine it again, joining Bird as the only players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for five consecutive years.

Garnett, who looks bigger than his 6-foot-11 listing, defies pigeonholing by position. He's a power forward doing small-forward things. He can play guard or center. Call him a player who can do it all.

''I think the similarity between (Bird) and Kevin is that they can control the game get 12, 14 points and still be the best player on the court,'' McHale said.

Garnett might not score much one night but he'll take over with rebounds, assists and blocks.

''That's very reminiscent of Larry and Magic,'' McHale said. ''Some MVPs are pure scorers. Kevin's a basketball player. Very truthfully, he's a better basketball player than he is a scorer.

''It's crazy to say a guy who gets 24 points a game is not a scorer. He scores, but he's not a scorer in the sense that he's not a Paul Pierce. He's not a guy that you give him the ball and everybody clears out. He's a basketball player. He gets as much pleasure out of blocking a shot, getting a rebound, making a pass as he does out of scoring.''

The Wolves had an idea of what they were getting when they drafted him with the fifth pick overall in 1995, after he played one season at Farragut Academy in Chicago.

He was a sinewy, skinny kid who could jump as if he were propelled. Anyone could see he would be a rebounding force, maybe a great shot blocker, but no one knew if he might also one day learn to shoot from the outside and whip passes around the court. People could see his talent but no one knew if he had the heart to become one of the greats.

The draft is part brains, part art and part crapshoot. With Garnett, the Timberwolves hit the trifecta. He's cost them plenty over the years owner Glen Taylor may lose up to $15 million this year but he's helped keep the franchise rolling.

''I think the validation probably is not just this year,'' Taylor said. ''He has played a level higher each year. The recognition comes with the team winning so much.''

That was the plan all along.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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