In 2008 Kevin Garnett finished 3rd in the MVP vote, was voted 1st team All NBA, and was the Defensive Player of the Year. He measured out as the best player in the entire NBA across a series of 7 advanced stats, and he measured out as the most valuable player in the NBA according to an adjusted +/- stat. He did this for a team that absolutely dominated the regular season, then in the playoffs Garnett was the leading scorer and rebounder (as well as the advanced stats leader) on the team that won the championship. In other words, whether you use accolades, stats, or postseason results Garnett was clearly among the top-5 players in the NBA at the worst and in the conversation for best overall in the 2007-08 season. And this came on the heels of a career that was already Hall of Fame/one-of-the-best-of-this-era before the 2008 season even began.
Fast-forward to 2008-09. With Garnett the Celtics rush out to a historic 27-2 start without seeming to press very hard, even as Garnett further subsumed his game for the sake of the team (or possibly to cope with his aching knee). Somewhere around the doldrums of winter people noticed Garnett limping consistently right around the time that the Cs slowed down a bit, but they were still on pace for another 65+ wins and best record in the NBA before KG went down in February for essentially the season. The remaining Cs pulled together and kept the team competitive, manfully only dropping to the #3 seed overall and playing competitive in the playoffs before bowing out in round 2.
Now, the point: I have never in my life seen such a big injury that had such an effect on the championship landscape for the entire league treated as such secondary news. Yeah, the media always mentioned that KG was out but it was almost an afterthought like an "oh yeah, their also missing Garnett" kind of addition when it came to really discussing why the Cs struggled the whole playoffs and couldn't get past the Magic. For instance, the Bulls gained credibility as an up-and-coming team because they took the Garnett-less Celtics to 7 games...do you think that the Jazz get ANY credit if they take a Kobe-less Lakers team to 7 games then lose? Then, after the Lakers win, nobody outside of Boston even hints that maybe things might have been different if oh, I don't know, THE BEST PLAYER ON THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS WASN'T OUT.
And now, when ESPN is doing their "predictions" for this season, they predict the Cavs to win the East by a huge margin. And in the Celtics' write-up they don't mention Garnett at all until the fourth paragraph, and then only to say "Sure, the C's need a healthy Kevin Garnett". Then, in the next-to-last section, they point out that some think "KG is a 33-year-old with a bad knee". That's it. No other mention.
And see, it doesn't matter whether you really think KG is not going to be the same player because of his knee or not...the point is, for any other superstar with KG's credentials THAT is THE story for the team (and really the NBA) this offseason. Had it been Kobe and not KG that went out at game 55 last season, this offseason would be INUNDATED with Kobe stories...updates on his rehab, thoughts on his potential recovery, horror stories about what if he's not the same, character pieces about how the NBA is affected by his absence, the works. That story would have maybe even threatened to knock "where will LeBron play in 2010?" off the top of the NBA home page once in awhile, and that is SAYING something.
I know Garnett has more in common with Tim Duncan than the Kobes, LeBrons, or Shaqs of the league when it comes to how they are portrayed in the media. I know that the casual fan probably sees the latter trio as easily the best because they are always the center of the story, whereas you actually have to pay some attention to know that Duncan and Garnett are right there with them on that top pedestal. And if I was a Duncan fan this article would probably be about how ignored the injuries to Duncan and Manu Ginobili are when considering the Lakers' ascension to the top of the West over the last two years and how ridiculously overlooked the Spurs are when it comes to next season. But as a Garnett fan the fact that his presence/absence is considered such a non-story when it comes to the landscape of the NBA is pretty irritating.
On the other hand, it'll make it that much sweeter when the Celtics are celebrating #18 with the new Garden going crazy as Michelle Tafoya again tries to get some coherence from KG in a post-game interview...and the rest of the media is again forced to try to spin that them whiffing on all of their predictions was due to anything other than them simply not understanding a historic team when they see it.