For those of you who have been closely following the aptly titled “Jon Koncak Commemorative Awards,” courtesy of Bloguin's own TheRealShaq, you have been treated to a classic slew of epically terrible deals from equally terrible players. While the list is full of NBA eyesores, I thought for our first of a few TWB contributions to the series that I would take a wholly different, and controversial approach: the somewhat crucifixion of Kevin Garnett. The timing (1997) of his contract is admittedly breaking the rules of the series, but given the name and controversy behind the post, an exception was granted.
Now before you take your computer or portable handheld device, heave it out the window, run it over with a car, and stick the remains on a cargo ship headed to Guam, let’s take a collective Oliver Miller-sized step back and discuss the fundamental “realities” behind that one ex-girlfriend Timberwolves fans simply cannot get over.
First and foremost, this write-up is not intended to flame Garnett’s obvious impeccable basketball ability, nor the awe-inspiring impact he had on Minnesota and NBA history. This series is titled “Contracts that Ruined the NBA,” and as such even the most nauseating of Minnesota-based Garnett apologists (you know who you are) should understand the reality behind the impact of Garnett’s contract(s). We all know he is a future Hall-of-Famer who was the heart and soul of Minneapolis for many years. Regardless of any forthcoming negative comment, KG is still missed and that’s that.
Onward with negativity, and completing the Antoine Walker gambling dept-sized step back, let’s take a trip back to 1997, when “’Mo Money, ‘Mo Problems” and “Return of the Mack” were Grammy contenders. Kevin Garnett, Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury were forming a fantastic, yet ultimately short lived, title-contending trio. Garnett was in talks for a contract extension to keep him in Minnesota for years to come after showing enough promise in his first couple of years to demonstrate star potential. The first deal on the table was, from memory, about 6-years and $105 million. Seeing as though that was not enough money, Garnett and his agent demanded more and ultimately “settled” at a then-record-setting contract extension of 6-years and $126 million. This would not be altogether too shocking in the modern-day NBA, however during the 1997 season this was an unprecedented amount. Fans rejoiced that the franchise savior was here to stay. However, the media was a bit more critical and suggested a supporting cast would never exist and that Garnett and the Wolves would be doomed to mediocrity. While it was not all KG's fault in the slightest, they ended up being exactly right.
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A short time later, NBA owners, fed up with the ludicrous demands of their player's salary requirements, locked out the league for nearly half of a season after profits were not meeting expectations. At the center of it all was the league's highest player: our very own Kevin Garnett, who continued to play up to the standards of a star level player, but was not leading his team anywhere past the first round despite a young and talented roster. Garnett become the poster boy for an outrageous contract and the main positioning statement from the owners as they dissected the Collective Bargaining Agreement. These discussions and the eventual agreement led us to the current NBA salary structure we see today: rookie scaling, 100% guaranteed deals, maximum salaries, mid-level exceptions. The like.
From the Timberwolves' perspective, the media had feared correctly for years. It took 4 additional seasons for Garnett and company to advance at least 1 round in the playoffs, due largely to Garnett's contract (and of course, a boob GM in the office). This came after a fluke offseason in which McHale was finally able to surround Garnett with reasonable talent. The fire lasted all of one season and the Wolves have not made the playoffs since and Garnett has long since moved on....and yet his memory lives on. My own site still has a Kevin Garnett section on our front page. Just scroll up. Top of your screen in the middle. Kind of sad, isn't it?
Who do you blame, Garnett for his demands, or McHale and Taylor for giving in? Good point. Therein lies the problem. The players own all of the cards, but the moronic owners and GM's continue to oblige. "You won't pay me? Fine I'll find someone who will pay me double." However, with the absence of a maximum salary, the Wolves were unable to bring in anyone noteworthy until the aforementioned offseason in which we brought in Cassell, Sprewell, 300 pounds of Marijuana.... and, coincidentally, Michael Olowkandi immediately after. However, aside from this, the Wolves themselves had been unable to attract anyone decent to play with Garnett for years (aside from a young Billups who we stupidly let go, and a few decent guys via trade). Instead, they relied on KG to do some recruiting that resulted in the free agent acquisitions of his "boys:" Troy Hudson, Joe Smith's extension and 5-year scandal, Trenton Hassell, Mike James (remember the story of KG calling James and telling him how much he needed him?), and who could forget the KG-suggested trade of Wally Szczerbiak, which started the Ricky Davis/Mark Blount era, the official catalyst of our franchise nosedive? But KG was locked in, right? Sure, but then attendance dropped dramatically, fans turned their backs on the team and front office in favor of our other 3 major sports teams, Flip Saunders was fired, interest plummeted and commercials stopped running on TV broadcasts. You see, at the end of the day in sports, it isn't the players on the floor, it's the number of wins in the win column. KG's deal and McHale's brain weren't cutting it, and in the summer of 2007 Garnett was gone. And he hasn't looked back.
To add insult to injury, reports surfaced this past season when Garnett flamed the franchise (yet again). KG questioned his own to-a-fault loyalty by suggesting to LeBron James that he himself would have left the Wolves much earlier if given a do-ever. Quite a kind thing to say. It seems like a nice cue to add a second Garnett banner to our site, perhaps. Sure, McHale and Taylor are to be blamed for 50% of the problem, but KG did not hold himself accountable for his cap-killing paycheck.
Of course, in hindsight, you HAVE to sign him to the initial deal. Still in hindsight, his cap figure (again, not the player) literally ruined the NBA and it certainly ruined the franchise and kept us at mediocrity for over a decade. This is why he deserves to be in this series. Despite the awesome talent of Garnett the player, Garnett the contract should be a lesson in dreadful deals. One could argue he never met expectations, but I am not mentally prepared to go there at this point for legitimate fear of my life.
Yet at the end of the day, here we are looking at this guy longingly, with sentimental memories. Like that ex-girlfriend who left you abruptly and you just can't get over her for whatever reason. Maybe there wasn't any closure? Who knows. Well, get over it. She found a new boyfriend and he is much more well-endowed than you. And she is laughing about it to all of her friends.
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