Age is a funny thing. It happens to everybody yet it affects everyone differently and everyone has their own perspective on it. Boston Celtic forward Kevin Garnett hates it. He hates being asked about his age. He hates hearing about it. He hates the whole concept of aging. Yet oddly enough questions about age have followed Garnett since he first entered the league, possibly more than any other player in the history of the NBA, and it's something that has never stopped fueling him.
When KG first came into the league, and the number five overall pick in the 1995 draft, he was the first player to jump directly from high school to the pros since 1975. Leading up to the draft he fielded constant questions about his age and what made him think he was ready for the pro game without any time to develop in college. He could have gone to any school he wanted. Any college coach would have killed for a chance to work with KG. But Garnett didn't want to go to college, he wanted to go to the pros. He wanted to prove to the world that, despite being just 18, he was ready. The vast majority of the league disagreed. The consensus was that Garnett's body needed time to develop and his choosing to forgo a college career would do him more harm than good. However the Minnesota Timberwolves took a chance on the wiry 18 year old, and he turned out to be the best player in that draft and easily the best player in franchise history.
17 years later Garnett finds himself at the opposite end of the spectrum. In the final stages of a sure-fire Hall of Fame career Garnett has seen and done it all in the NBA. A championship, a league MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year award, 14 All-Star game selections and more points, rebounds, blocks and assists than half the league put together there isn't much missing from Garnett's resume. Yet the player who everybody once thought was too young is still answering age related questions, as many now view him as too old. A large portion of those around the NBA see Garnett as the once great veteran who has hung on too long, and make no mistake, that motivates him. When asked what fuels him KG routinely says "the doubters, the naysayers." It's hard to get inside KG's mind, but easy to see who he's referring to.
Last year Garnett did everything he possibly could to disprove the "KG is done" talk that has followed him ever since his 2009 knee operation. After struggling through the first half of last season, a stretch that convinced even Celtic diehard Bill SImmos of Grantland that KG was "salad fork in the back done," Garnett ripped up the NBA throughout the second half and took it to another level in the post season. He looked like a man on a mission. WEEI's Sean Grande actually wondered if coach Doc Rivers had hypnotized him, because the transformation between first half KG and second half KG was so alarming. Many attributed it to Rivers moving him to the center position, but the real explanation was actually a lot simpler – KG was out to shut all the "agists" up again.
Garnett's performance put to bed any question of whether or not the Celtics would want him back. GM Danny Ainge made him the top priority of the offseason, and KG inked a three year extension in the offseason. Yet the whispers are still following him and still driving him, just like they did back when he was an 18 year old rookie. Don't think for a second that wanting to prove all the "agists" wrong didn't play a part in KG putting off retirement. Sure he's 36 and has logged a lot of miles in his 17 year career, but he wants to prove to everyone that he isn't finished. He came back to chase another title, but also came back to prove that he can still play with the best of them no matter what the date on his birth certificate says. And the best part about it – he's going to be proved right again.
KG isn't the athlete he once was. He doesn't have quite the same lift in his legs or spring in his step that he once did, but that really isn't going to slow him down much over the next three years. People keep waiting for the well that is KG to finally dry up, but that isn't going to happen for one simple reason – size. It's easy to forget with everything else that KG brings, athleticism and intensity first and foremost, the most obvious thing about him – he's just really really tall. He's listed at 6'11", a lie he made up in '95 prior to the draft so that he wouldn't be forced to play center, but he's actually 7'1" easy with freakish long arms. Countless times last year the C's would throw the ball to Garnett in the post, his defender would guard him really well, and it wouldn't make a difference. He'd guess what move KG was going to make and do an excellent job challenging the shot, but KG would just shoot up over him and find the bottom of the net. That's the thing about KG – there really aren't a lot of guys in the NBA who can bother his shot. He can't jump as high or run as fast as he once could, but he hasn't gotten any shorter and his touch is as good as ever. Unless he starts shrinking his play isn't going to drop off no matter what the agists say.
The other thing that will keep KG going is his relationship with Boston's star point guard Rajon Rondo. KG has played with some good facilitators in his time, Stephon Marbury and Sam Cassell spring to mind, but he never enjoyed the same chemistry with them as he does with Rondo. People wonder how Garnett's offensive numbers haven't dropped off even though he's going to the post less and less as the years go by. Simple – Rondo gets him more easy looks than he ever got in Minnesota, or even in his first few years with the Celtics. Rondo can get KG his patented 15 foot jumper any time he wants it, and as long as KG isn't being unselfish to the point of foolishness, there aren't many who can bother that shot. One of the things that fueled the Celtics' second half turnaround last year was that KG got pissed at all the people calling him old and started shooting more. Rondo kept finding him, and KG kept knocking them down. Celtic fans can expect more of the same in the coming years. KG is on a mission. Yes he's out to win another championship, but he's also out to once again answer all the questions about his age. It's something that has never stopped driving him and probably never will.
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