"Larry Legend" on Garnett and Youth is Served
By Stephen Litel
Larry Bird was an All-Star, a Dream Team member, an MVP, and a champion. In the greatest plays in NBA history, a green 33 would be seen more than its fair share. He, along with Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, elevated the NBA to levels never imagined in the early days of the league. Bird did things on the court that were amazing, awe-inspiring and awesome and will always be one of the greatest players to ever step foot on an NBA floor.
Now president of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers, Bird was in town last night to watch his Pacers play the Timberwolves. As soon as I became aware that Bird was in attendance, I knew that I must attempt to speak with him. After the Wolves defeated Bird's Pacers 86-81, I did indeed get the rare opportunity.
After a career such as his, a game like the one he had just witnessed surely must have bored him to tears. Through three quarters, both teams played sloppy, uninspired basketball and once the game picked up, he watched his team play just badly enough to lose. Suffice it to say, he was not in the greatest of moods.
As the book I am working on is on Kevin Garnett and his place in history whether or not he wins a title before he retires, I thought who else but this all-time great to comment on the Big Ticket. Therefore, the question posed to Bird was simple enough.
"What are your thoughts on Kevin Garnett and his place in the history books?"
The answer was surprising... and somewhat confusing.
"There are a lot of competitors in this league. Usually the ones who have had the most success are the top competitors. That's the way it has always been," said Bird. After the comment, he nodded his head to give me the impression of "Yeah, I said it," and walked away.
Now, as I look at the quote on paper while thinking back to the exchange with Larry Legend, I realize that his quote can be interpreted one of two ways. Could Bird be simply stating that Kevin Garnett has had a successful career—his career statistics show him to be one of the greatest of all-time himself, he has been an All-Star, an All-Star game MVP and a regular season MVP—therefore, Garnett should be considered as one of those 'top competitors' of which he spoke?
Or is Bird referring to the lack of post-season success of Garnett's Timberwolves and the lack of championship rings on KG's fingers? Is he speaking on Minnesota's below 0.500 record? Could he even be backhandedly commenting on old buddy Kevin McHale?
Now, granted, I did catch him after his team played a bad game, adding another loss to their own record, but I have a hard time believing Bird was caught off-guard. Bird is obviously a media-savvy guy and has dealt with this sort of public scrutiny since before I was born.
Either way, Bird gave an interesting answer.
Oh yeah, by the way, the Timberwolves grabbed a nice home win before hitting the road for the next five games. Certainly not an ideal game, Minnesota received a nice lift from its young players and—surprise, surprise—Marko Jaric. How great was it, on this one night, to see Kevin Garnett enjoying his teammates and having fun?
Prior to the game, Coach Wittman was asked if the starting lineup will be changing anytime soon, more than likely with Randy Foye being reinserted into the starting five. He again answers with an indecisive answer.
"We're plugging to win some games here and fight for a spot. I mean, nobody down where we're at (in the standings) is really distinguishing themselves and taking off. For us to be where we are with our struggles, I feel very lucky to still be in the position. If we can get on any kind of mini roll here, we have the opportunity to play for something these last twenty games."
Although the stat sheets show respectable, not spectacular, games from Randy Foye, Rashad McCants and Craig Smith, Coach Wittman's struggles to find the best mix on this team were rewarded in the fourth quarter. The lineup of Foye, McCants, Jaric, Smith, and Garnett provided flow in the offense, teamwork in the defense—the zone defense caused major problems in the Indiana attack—and, get this, entertaining basketball and promise for the future.
This was only one game against the Indiana Pacers, who are a bad team, so we should not get carried away in our optimism for the remainder of this season and beyond. The foursome of Foye, McCants, Smith, and Jaric all have positives about their respective games, yet question marks surround each as well. Foye has been remarkable in certain situations, but has also looked lost at times. McCants is coming off knee surgery and must be cautious to not overdo it, causing a setback in his continuing rehab. Smith is undersized for his position and does not yet receive calls from the refs although he has been deserving of his fair share. All this while the Wolves' big acquisition last year, Marko Jaric, struggles with confidence even though he can be a game-changer when he is playing his game.
The remedy for Wittman's indecisiveness is this fourth quarter lineup. I have constantly questioned as to why it is difficult for the coaching staff to understand that by playing the young guys now, not only is it beneficial for the future of the franchise, but it also gives this team, the 2006-07 Minnesota Timberwolves, the best chance at making the playoffs.
That is, if an eighth seed and first round loss to the Dallas Mavericks is the goal for the season.
By Stephen Litel