Kevin Garnett is the most important player in the NBA this year. Yes Shaq is going to grab headlines next to LeBron and the Kobe/Artest marriage should be interesting to watch. Many eyes will be on Vince in Orlando and Richard Jefferson in San Antonio and even Rasheed Wallace in Boston. But the bottom line is this: If Kevin Garnett is at full speed and playing up this his usual standard of excellence, the road to the NBA title goes through Boston, period.
The problem is that pesky "if" word in there. He's coming off a long layoff followed by offseason surgery. I won't pretend to understand the ins and outs of his condition or provide any detailed update of his rehab. All I know is that the body can be incredibly resilient and frighteningly fragile at the same time.
I have every hope that he'll be just fine. I can't think of anyone that would attack rehab with more vigor than KG. Every word coming out of the Boston camp says that he'll be fine for training camp. But you just never know. And even if he's fine for the first several months of the season, who's to say that he won't get hurt again later on? You run that risk with every single player in the league but the odds seem higher if the player in question has any history with injuries.
Oh yeah, and somehow I've made it this far without mentioning the fact that he just turned 33. Not old by any means, but the space between him and 30 years old is growing. Mortality tends to slip into that space for NBA players. And considering the fact that he skipped college, you can consider it an old 33 as well. Peter May points out:
If all goes according to Hoyle, a returned-to-full-health Kevin Garnett will join the 40,000-minutes club just before Thanksgiving. Garnett enters the season with 39,635. With three years left on his contract, he has already logged more time than Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas, and Dominique Wilkins.
However, the old man ain't ready for a gold watch and pat on the back anytime soon. Doc is keeping him on a pitch count already (just 32.8 and 31.1 minutes per game the last 2 years) and will likely watch him even closer this year.
I don't need to remind you what a force he is when healthy. Or do I? It seems like ages since we've seen him play. Here's a quick refresher.
Thinking about running a pick and roll on the Celtics? Not on KG's watch. Nobody snuffs this out better. He's also a field general on the court, making sure that everyone is in their proper places.
Then there's the "unforced errors" that always seem to happen somewhere near him. I'm talking about the plays where a ball handler penetrates the first line of defense, gets into the lane, then something inexplicable happens and the ball ends up on the floor or in Rondo's hand going the other direction. KG didn't block a shot or steal a pass or do anything all that spectacular, but somehow he stopped the play from developing. Maybe it is a product of making just the right rotation cutting off the driving or passing lane. Maybe it is a hedge in one direction then beating his man to the spot going the other way - like an Iverson crossover in reverse. Or perhaps it is just those googly eyes and flailing, gangly arms coming at the ball handler that makes him hesitate ever so slightly. Who knows what it is that makes him so good? All I know is that he's a defensive savant and the other team just doesn't score as much when he's on the court.
Of course we haven't even talked about his offense yet, but as far as I'm concerned that's just gravy. He doesn't force anything but when you need a key bucket you can throw it to him on the block and watch him fake left, spin right, and shoot an unblockable fade-away that finds the bottom of the basket quite a bit when you need it to.
Do I need to go on? Should I wax poetic about the Ubuntu tribal clan Chief? Should I roll out comic book type analogies to try to explain his intensity? Should I post links to YouTube videos where Bill Russell all but adopts him as his son? No, probably not. You know who Kevin Garnett is.
The league knows who Kevin Garnett is. They know he's coming back. That's why all the contenders are loading up and all the pretenders are punting the season. Sheed is an X factor, Pierce is still the star, Rondo is ready for the next level, but at the end of the day it all comes down to Kevin Garnett. If we get the KG we all know and love, the Celtics hold the keys to the Finals.