MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The playoffs have started, and after a season out of the NBA for the first time in more than two decades, Kevin Garnett’s body is starting to talk to him.
The mileage on his legs and knees may have limited his playing time over his final couple of seasons in the NBA, but now that he has had a year away from the competition and the camaraderie, he is “definitely getting itchy.”
“You get sweaty at night and I’m tossing and turning,” Garnett told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “My wife is like, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ When you do something for so long and you start to program your body, muscle memory and everything it comes back to you inadvertently.”
Retirement has not extinguished the fire that burned in him for 21 NBA seasons, nor has it healed the wounds opened during an acrimonious split with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer. When former team President Flip Saunders brought Garnett back to Minnesota in a trade in 2015, the two talked about KG eventually becoming a minority owner.
Then Saunders suddenly died after a battle with lymphoma and the Wolves were forced to move on with new leadership. They hired Tom Thibodeau as coach and president and Scott Layden as GM, and a new course was set. Garnett believes that promises were broken and he left last summer after a tense buyout negotiation with owner Glen Taylor.
“I love those young guys,” Garnett said, referring to the Wolves’ young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine that he mentored in his final season. “I told Thibs I want to work with him, but obviously me and Glen don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and that’s how it’s going to be.”
Garnett envisioned having a large role in the decision-making process, particularly when it came to the move to fire GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell — Garnett’s close friend — after last season.
Garnett also told the AP that he was upset with the way the team handled a memorial service for Saunders, the coach who drafted Garnett as a skinny teenager out of Farragut Academy High School in Chicago in 1995.
Saunders was honored in an emotional service before the team’s home opener against Portland last season. It included a touching video tribute, with players, coaches, media members and others speaking about the impact Saunders had on their lives.
One glaring absence was Garnett, who said he “couldn’t put a lifetime of friendship into three minutes.”
“How do you put a time limit on something like that?” Garnett said. “And then, too, I thought he wasn’t celebrated the proper way. You have high school banners, you have (expletive) hockey banners (hanging in the rafters). You couldn’t put a Flip banner in Target Center, some place that we helped build? … We established that market. I helped grow that with him. You can’t put him in the (rafters)?
“So I just had problems with how they were shoving this down all of our throats. The young guys, they weren’t invested enough to really understand what was going on. I chose to be mute, to be professional and keep all the negative energy down. There was a bigger message I wanted to tell, but I supported it and just kept my mouth shut.”
The Wolves declined to comment.
“I wish the Timberwolves all the best. I talk to KAT and some of the young guys all the time,” Garnett said. “I hope they can find a special place in commemorating Flip and celebrating him properly.”
The organization did honor Saunders while trying keep a young team moving forward. Saunders patches were sewn on the team’s jerseys last season. Everyone from coaches to executives to Target Center ushers wore Saunders pins. His son, Ryan, stayed on as an assistant coach and his daughter, Rachel, works in the basketball operations department, while wife Debbie and daughters Megan and Mindy still watch games from seats just behind the Wolves bench.
And it remains unclear just what Garnett was promised. League rules prevented Taylor from negotiating any kind of ownership stakes with Garnett while he was still playing and their relationship was already frayed from Garnett’s first exit in 2007 when he was traded to Boston. So the bulk of the conversation occurred between Garnett and Saunders, whom Garnett trusted like few others.
Taylor also signed off on a two-year, $16.5 million contract for the 39-year-old Garnett in the summer of 2015, not to mention the then-record $126 million deal he negotiated with Garnett during the 1997-98 season.
Garnett hasn’t strayed far from the game. He hosts “Area 21,” an irreverent show-within-a-show on TNT that runs every Monday night during the playoffs in which he invites guests into a lounge to watch games. He also has done consulting work with the Bucks and Clippers, showing up for practices and working with the players. That’s when that fire burns hottest.
When he attended a Clippers practice before the playoffs, Garnett said it was “like being dropped in the jungle and smelling that atmosphere and that (stuff) hits your chest, man. You know, it’s like almost your body knows.”
There may be a time when Garnett and the Timberwolves reunite. Taylor told the AP in February that the Wolves reached out to Garnett in hopes of arranging a ceremony to retire his jersey.
“We think that’s the appropriate thing to do,” Taylor said. “At this time he hasn’t commented on a timetable. We just have left it open.”
Garnett said he has never heard from the Wolves.
“I choose to let the Timberwolves focus on what they’re focused on and I’m focused on what I’m focused on,” Garnett said. “I still live in Minny. I still got love for Minny. You know what it is. I’m still a Timberwolf until I die, as I am a Celtic. And that’s what it is.”