Release the Gluco Wannabes
This is how a pigeon takes flight.
After I watched the Wolves barely muster up 65 points against the Mavericks on Tuesday night, I'm pretty much ready to write Papa Wolf Glen Taylor an email and ask him to compensate me for my remaining NBA League Pass bill (sudden thought: possible Freedarko tax write-off?). I'm throwing in the towel on Kevin Garnett too. Not giving up on HIM, but no longer committing myself to the hard stance that I need him as a part of my life, on the Timberwolves. This KG-surrender actually occurred the previous week when I read his now well-documented comments, well-summarized here, which are merely the most explicit in a long line of faiiiiiirly subtle self-declarations of KG's unhappiness.
I AM DOCUMENTING IT ALL RIGHT HERE. Once KG and Minnesota part ways, much will be made of his loyalty, how he never ASKED for a trade, how he kept his mouth shut. For the past year-and-a-half, we've seen KG-apologists from Stephen A. Smith to William Lee to Bill Simmons to Charles Barkley [no links, we've heard it over and over] scream for freedom on KG's behalf, because KG's good character somehow makes him deserving of a championship . I am here to tell you that all of this KG-bolstering is grossly overstated (note: some like me are also fed up with this continuous pining). Sure, Ticket never came out and straight-up begged for a trade like Zo, Vince Carter, T-Mac (fallen heroes), but you know what? Fuck it. I wish he did. I'd rather he would just man up and speak his piece rather than pull this passive-aggressive shit. Some quick evidence to review:
During the failed 04-05 season, when most analysts picked the Wolves to go all the way, KG broke down during the legendary John Thompson interview...then pissed away the rest of the season with a bunch of aging teammates and started throwing subliminal disses at the front office at the season's. At the start of the 05-06 season, as the Wolves were looking to bounce back, Garnett started this muckstorm by throwing some serious shots at the F.O. for mishandling the Flip situation and Spree and Sam's contracts. In the beginning of the current season, KG made his infamous "my clock is ticking" comments. I'm leaving out a few similar smaller remarks...but we are pretty much up to date with his current "Thank God for opt-outs" smackdown.
Here is where the typical Minnesota sportsfan jumps in and blames Kevin McHale for everything, which seems also to be the refrain of every NBA media member of late. That line of thinking is such a cop-out I barely want to address it, but I guess I have to. Will try to make this succinct. I'm not saying McHale shouldn't share some of the responsibility, and I'm not putting it all on KG either. I'm just saying, there's enough egg to go around. Shit, if we're distributing blame, then let's talk Troy Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak, Eddie Griffin, Flip Saunders. Back to McHale, though, I think dude's failures are largely a result of (a) one big organization-wide mistake: Joe Smith (KG, Glen Taylor, and others can share responsibility on this one), (b) bad luck (see: Marbury pulling a Diana Ross, Terrell Brandon's injury, and the Malik Sealy tragedy), and (c) listening TOO MUCH to KG (see: Troy Hudson's contract, Mike James, again, the Joe Smith deal).
On top of it all, McHale takes the blame for making moves that ALWAYS seemed advisable at the time. Let's see, after T-Brandon goes down and the Wolves play a spirited-but-again unsuccessful 1st round series in 02-03, everyone barks at him to get playoff-experienced vets, so he goes out and grabs Sam Cassell and Spree. Sam and Spree get cranky, age quickly, want money and we all start to stir--Cassell's playoff heroics are forgotten and is now seen only as a shit defender and too much of a shoot-first guy, so McHale goes out and gets a solid-defending/pass-first point guard in Marko Jaric. Jaric gets the jitters, the season explodes, and everyone says what KG needs is a championship-tested clutch companion, so McHale goes out and gets Mike James. DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH OF A MIRACLE THIS WAS? Nobody thought he was going to the wolves, nobody. Sure, Mac took Ndudi Ebi instead of Josh Howard in the 03 draft, but he did so knowing that we were going into the season with a team of vets. The starting lineup was scheduled to have four all-stars (Wally, Spree, Sam, KG), and he figured he might as well roll the dice. Paul Grant and Will Avery were bad decisions. Then again, Craig Smith and, uh, Kevin Garnett at #5 were good ones. I've already said too much: McHale is cool with me.
Back to KG. Actually back to McHale AND KG. Outsiders are quick to suggest that the tragedy of KG's career was that he never had a strong supporting cast. They point to 03-04 as the only season as the exception. Let's examine this claim a bit more closely: First, using some extreme double-negative logic, quick inspection reveals that the 03-04 was nowhere CLOSE to a formidable cast. The starting center spot alternated between Michael Olowokandi and Ervin Johnson. Trenton Hassell, a patch, was starting as well. Gary Trent (Mr. Timberwolf) was getting clock. Darrick Martin was starting playoff games. How was this team of guys necessarily better than any of the Joe Smith/Wally in his prime/Hudson in his good year/ T-Brandon permutations. Second, THEY HAD THE SAME SQUAD IN 04-05...PLUS a healthy Wally. Obviously, the unspoken factor in all of this is chemistry, but if all you need is chemistry, then how was chemistry so difficult to formulate? I'm leaving more questions than answers here, but the bottom line is that the whole "lack of supporting cast" argument is pretty spotty. Or, if you want to take this opinion, then you are basically conceding that KG was actually Pippen all along.
I refuse to take that stance, although I will admit that KG's game is simply not dominant, because of his well-documented tendency to shoot fadeaways and not turn to the middle or go up strong to get fouled. These tendencies I don't necessarily fault HIM with, but rather, I attribute to Flip Saunders. Flip nurtured a young "Da Kid" in his painfully redundant perimeter-oriented offense, and turned a beastly down-low high school player into a superfreak jumpshooter. I blame Flip for most of this, actually.
Again, the purpose of all this is not to blame KG, but rather to get the facts straight before he moves on and revisionist history is written. I feel like I've already watched the next 9 months of my life play out by witnessing the Iverson situation. I fear that like AI, I will lose respect for KG when all is said and done. Note, I did not lose respect for AI for asking out of Philly. Rather, I lost respect when he tried to cover his tracks with his adamant claim that he NEVER DEMANDED A TRADE. Instead, he let the Sixers know that, in his words:
If they didn't change what was going on so that we had a chance to win, I thought they should get rid of me.
That is some straight Bill Clinton "I did not have sex with that woman/definition of IS" semantic dumb wizardry. That interview (with Stephen A.) was the one to let the know the Philadelphia fans that their AI could have never been responsible for the whole debacle. Blame Billy King. Blame Maurice Cheeks (FATHER TIME). I thought it was bullshit. VC goes back to Toronto and takes his boos like a man, dropping 30+ and sticking daggers in the Air Canada Center. Iverson wants Rocky status in Philly + baby blue first round exits at the same time.
Say what you mean, fellas. Stop moping.
I also bring up A.I. because he shares something else in common with KG--they are two of the most respected players in he league, THE two players I think of first when answering the question, WHO HAS HEART. What our Jr. High B-Squad coaches told us about "heart" though wasn't true. The folk wisdom has been twisted for years.
The players with heart, those who play through pain and who epitomize the Protestant work ethic. Those players, they DONT win championships. I have never seen Tim Duncan dive for a ball. I have never seen Shaq play through an injury for a couple weeks to keep his team afloat. I never--during a game--saw the visible manifestation of "heart" on Jordan's face. Jordan played within himself; his body language and demeanor reflected that. With KG & AI, heart is something you can pinpoint within their furrowed brows, something that elicits Walton's verbal recognition of how "HARD [AI or KG] wants to win right now."
Heart, in this sense, is a bit contrived. For the true champions, there is no outward expression of this nature.