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Nothing’s official yet, but the signs and tweets out of Brooklyn suggest that Kevin Garnett will return in 2014-15 for the final season of his contract and the 20th season of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
The Nets are operating as if Garnett will be back for a second year in their organization, based on general manager Billy King‘s comments to reporters Wednesday in East Rutherford, N.J. The team’s GM has had some conversations with the 38-year-old power forward and said Garnett has begun offseason workouts earlier this summer, after his least productive season ever. Appearing in just 54 games and averaging only 20.5 minutes, the 6-foot-11 veteran averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while making only 44.1 percent of his 6.6 field-goal attempts per game – all career lows. His per-36 minutes numbers looked better – 11.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg – but Garnett missed 20 of 21 games late in the schedule with back issues.
Exiting after Brooklyn’s elimination by Miami from the East semifinals, Garnett skipped a final postgame session with reporters and gave no indication of his 2014-15 plans. But then, that’s been his M.O. even in his prime. Then, typically, he would gear up mentally and physically on the beaches near his Malibu, Calif., home, as the summer turned to fall and the opening of NBA training camps neared.
That’s how it looks to be pointing again – there is a $12 million salary to be had in this final year of his contract – and that’s fine with the Nets. Especially Mason Plumlee, Garnett’s backup/potential successor.
“All the guys who’ve had the chance to be his teammate, say if he’s not here next year, I know I’d miss him,” Plumlee said late last season, after spending most of the year apprenticing under Garnett. “Anybody who’s spent a season with him, they appreciate how unique of a teammate he is. You don’t have many guys who are so about everybody else on the team, to where they’re lending their wisdom, their time. He shares everything he’s been through, mistakes he’s made, everything.”
Plumlee, Brooklyn’s top pick out of Duke in last year’s draft, had heard all about Garnett’s ferocity – with rivals and sometimes teammates – by the time he arrived last fall. Then he got an earful more from longtime coach and NBA analyst Doug Collins. “He went on and on, about how this was the best situation for me, that it didn’t matter that I fell in the draft,” Plumlee said. “He couldn’t say enough good things about [Garnett].”
The veteran made a project out of the rookie and it showed: Plumlee averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in November and December but was up to 9.2 and 6.1 in March and April, earning a spot on the all-rookie first team.
“He’s the best for a young guy coming in,” Plumlee said. “He takes as much time as anybody to talk, to help, to explain stuff. Not just basketball stuff but off the court – your money, dealing with family and friends. His mentorship extends beyond just basketball.”
That came mostly in conversation on planes, the sort of stuff that has Sam Mitchell – newly named Minnesota assistant coach and Garnett’s mentor there two decades ago – convinced his old friend should carve out a role in Minnesota’s management once he retires.
Nets coach Jason Kidd also noted the influence Garnett had on younger players such as Plumlee. “From day 1 in training camp, Kevin sharing what he knows about the game and what it takes to be successful, you can see Mason has taken that information and has used it wisely,” Kidd said.
Some of those lessons still occur on the floor.
“The most impressive thing is, he always has an understanding of where he’s supposed to be,” Plumlee said. “And at this point in his career, he’s consumed with getting the next guy going, getting the next guy open. He’s all about screening to get Paul [Pierce] open, get Joe [Johnson] open. And then obviously everything on defense. How he talks. How he guards.”
In returning, Garnett would join only Kevin Willis (21), Robert Parish (21) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in playing at least 20 NBA seasons. The 15-time All-Star already ranks 10th all-time in games, sixth in minutes, third in defensive rebounds, 11th in rebounds 17th in points, 18th in steals, 20th in blocks and 49th in assists.