Last season, Kevin Garnett proved resurgent as a rebounder, reliable as a defensive force and again carried the Celtics to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference. But he slowed in the playoffs and struggled to put together multiple strong games in Boston’s second-round loss to the Heat.
He’s also heading into the final year of his contract and very possibly the final year of his career. Today, Hayes, Brian and I take a look at what might be in store for KG in 2011-12.
1. Do you expect any drop-off in Garnett’s game this year?
Hayes Davenport: Not really, no. His last three seasons have been pretty much identical statistically: same shooting percentage, same usage, all from the same parts of the floor. His defensive influence measures are still league-best, and he’s consistently putting up 7.2 animal noises per game. The only thing different about KG is that he’s more likely to get injured this year than last year, and he was pretty likely to get injured last year.
Brian Robb: I do expect a slight drop-off mostly because of the schedule. Even under the assumption that the C’s will be working in regular rest for KG during the year, the numerous back-to-backs will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on the legs, and in turn the performance of the 35-year-old veteran. That said, KG has been the model of consistency the past three seasons, so I expect The Big Ticket to continue performing close to that level (think 14 and 8).
Ryan DeGama: There are two areas that could be problematic. Keep an eye out for declining production in back-to-backs and three-games-in-four-nights scenarios. Also, watch his shot charts. If he drifts away from the basket, it’ll soften the Celtics’ already-squishy offense. Ideally, Garnett recommits to his underrated and underutilized post-game. Although the smart money says he won’t.
2. How do the Celtics make sure Garnett is fresh for the playoffs?
Hayes: Protecting KG’s health is like fighting the war on terror: it’s not the everyday battles you’re worried about, it’s the one major attack. Likewise, KG doesn’t really wear down in the second half, but the more time he spends on the floor, the more likely he is to get seriously injured. So Doc’s going to play him only when necessary, and sometimes not even then. He’s not going to put KG at risk of injury in what might be his last year.
Brian: This was one of the team’s biggest problems last year. After the mid-year roster overhaul, Doc Rivers didn’t have a guy he could throw out there at the 4 that could give him 10-15 good minutes (once Baby fell off a cliff). This year should be different. JaJuan Johnson has young legs and is by all accounts a good defender. Barring a blockbuster trade or another team overpaying him, Glen Davis will return. Jeff Green may even figure out how to play the 4. If these guys are performing, Doc can afford to rest KG plenty, a requirement for this team to make a run.
Ryan: I think you let KG run full bore the first six weeks and then pull back on the reins the rest of the year. This regular season is even more meaningless than usual for the Celtics. Or rather, the playoffs are more meaningful. If watching Kwame Brown and the rookies blow a few leads means KG is daisy fresh for the playoffs, so be it. Note: I am just assuming Kwame will end up on this roster at this point. Or someone Kwame-esque. Better to steel yourself in advance.
3. Will Garnett play for the Celtics in 2012-13?
Hayes: I don’t think Kevin Garnett will play for anyone in 2012-2013. Watching him last year, you could see he wasn’t playing with the same joyous anger he did four and even two years ago. He still has more energy than probably any player in basketball, but that energy has a frustrated, bitter edge to it now, probably because he can feel his body letting him down. But if he does play again, I think he’ll come back to Boston. He’s said he wants to retire with the Celtics, and I can’t really see him signing a two-year contract with another team and potentially coming off the bench at age 37.
Brian: Depends on how this season ends. If the Celtics are fading, and are dealt another early round exit, I could see Garnett hitting the road. However, if they get close again, and Danny is planning on bringing in another big free agent with all of the team’s cap room, I could see him taking one big-time pay cut for a final shot at another ring. There’s a lot of miles on those tires, but the guy is as competitive as they come. With some coaxing from Doc and company, I think there will be one final chapter if the C’s are sniffing another banner.
Ryan: Don’t underestimate Garnett’s superhuman loyalty trumping all. Remember when the Celtics’ players lobbied Doc to return when he was clearly fried after the 2010 Finals? That could prove to be a two-way street if the Celtics think they have another run in them behind Paul Pierce and a newly-signed star. I can imagine Garnett’s phone buzzing with text messages requesting his return. Of course, I can also imagine him hurling it into the Pacific and then vanishing into the early-morning fog on Malibu beach.