When Kevin Garnett announced his retirement, fans and people around the NBA were preparing for the 15-time All-Star to walk away from the league and stay out of sight at least early on. That would be a perfectly reasonable choice for someone who has spent more than half of their life playing in the NBA. However, Garnett had other plans.
Garnett has spent the early part of training camp with the Los Angeles Clippers and his former coach Doc Rivers. No, Garnett doesn’t seem interested in signing up for a final run at a championship, but he does look eager to share his knowledge and experience with younger players who grew up watching him dominate the league.
The obvious beneficiaries of having Garnett around are the Clippers’ big men, including DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.
“KG was phenomenal today,” Coach Rivers said to Jovan Buha of ESPN. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great. It was great for Blake and [DeAndre Jordan] and the young guys as well. It’s great to have him around. He’s a great teacher. We know him as a great player. I knew him as a great teacher. He’ll be really good for us.”
There are plenty of former players who are now assistant coaches and head coaches in the league, so it’s easy to dismiss the impact Garnett can have with the Clippers. However, Garnett is unique considering the fact that he has always played with a level of intensity few have ever matched, played 21 years in the league, was a one-man defensive force, played for and learned under both Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers (so he’s very familiar with the Clippers’ system), he’s a former champion and has a legitimate claim as being one of the best power forwards to ever play the game. That kind of track record makes Garnett a valuable mentor, teacher and example for younger players to learn from.
“A lot of guys would be hanging out and relaxing, but he’s in a full-blown sweat before practice, lifting with us, shooting after with us,” Jordan said to Dan Woike of the OC Register. “You really have to take and bottle that up, and I’m going to do just that.
“I hope he’s here permanently. I want to do whatever I can do to make that happen.”
Jordan was very raw coming into the NBA, but has consistently improved his game each season. However, having someone like Garnett to set a strong example, provide insight, and constructive criticism could have accelerated the development process for Jordan. A young player like Diamond Stone now has that opportunity and seems to understand how significant it is.
“KG’s a great teacher,” Stone said. “He’s really passionate about the game, as everybody knows, but just to be able to hear him and talk to him about different tricks, different ways you can get open, different ways you can get your teammates open, I’m just soaking it all in.”
Garnett’s presence at the Clippers’ training camp is especially important for this particular team. The Clippers are one of the best overall teams in the league, but they face an uphill battle to the NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs standing in their way. With limited roster flexibility to further improve the team, it is essential that the Clippers maximize the talent they currently have on the roster.
Whether it’s explaining to Jordan and Griffin how to work together most effectively in Coach Rivers’ defensive system, showing younger players how to work out and take care of their body effectively, or pulling Griffin aside to work with him on his post moves, Garnett is helping the Clippers coaching staff get the most out of their players.
Maybe Garnett’s impact will make a difference on the court this upcoming season or maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s a great benefit to the team to have such a universally respected figure take his time to work with the players and share his knowledge of the game.
“Anybody can pick up something from an all-time great,” Paul Pierce said. “[Garnett] is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. So, whenever you’ve got somebody that can come in and share some valuable experience, it’s a plus. Unless you’re already sitting on the sidelines with five championships and 15 All-Star [appearances], and stuff like that, you probably don’t want to hear nothing.
“But, when you have a guy like Kevin who was the greatest at his position, when he talks, you want to listen.
“He has so much to share, and it’s good to see him come in here and share some of the things he knows with some of our guys. Especially with DJ and Blake. He’s working with them right now. All that helps. Every little thing helps.”
Even a 16-year veteran like Jamal Crawford seems to be in awe of Garnett and happy to have him with the team during training camp.
“You see Kevin Garnett here,” Crawford said to Rowan Kavner of Clippers.com. “I couldn’t stop watching him, to be honest with you. Like, he’s one of my 10 favorite players ever. I’m watching him now, as I talk to you guys. It’s unbelievable.”
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Garnett is universally praised by both young players and seasoned veterans. Garnett has been a key figure in the NBA since the 1995-96 season, won the league MVP award in 2004, won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, made numerous appearances on the All-NBA teams (four times on the First Team), made the NBA-All Defensive First Team nine times and set the bar for competitiveness and intensity for roughly two decades.
As of now, Garnett doesn’t have an official position with the Clippers and Rivers doesn’t foresee him taking on a permanent coaching position in the immediate future. However, Rivers says that Garnett is welcome to help out with the team as much as he likes.
“I don’t know. I’m going to … we’ll just figure it out,” Rivers said on Friday. “If it happens, it’ll be great. But, he’s going to be around enough where it’s official as far as I’m concerned.”
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