Should the Celtics Retire Kevin Garnett’s number?

KG.jpg
Credit: Getty Images

During the 21 seasons Kevin Garnett was in the NBA, two-thirds of his career took place in Minnesota.  Garnett’s career with the Timberwolves began in 1995, at the age of 19, when he was selected out of high school with the 5th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft.  It was Garnett, the uber-talented but extremely raw prospect, that began the trend of selecting high school players yet again (a practice that took place in the NBA until 2006). 

During KG’s first stint in Minnesota (1995-2007), he became one of the league’s best players.  The 6’11” PF quickly became an imposing defensive force, as well as a superb offensive talent.  His ability to stretch the floor was revolutionary (and underutilized); if Garnett began his career 15-20 years later, he’d absolutely be the ideal center… unfortunately for most of his career he was seen as a typical power forward.  Nevertheless, in his first 12 seasons, KG was a 10-time All-Star, the 2004 NBA MVP, 3-time All-NBA First Team, 3-time All-NBA Second Team, and 2-time All-NBA Third Team; he was a 4-time rebounding champion, 6-time NBA All-Defensive First Team, and 2-time All-NBA Defensive Second Team… all before the age of 31.

Garnett was a Hall of Fame caliber player during the first 12 seasons of his career, but the only asterisk of his time in Minnesota was winning… or a lack thereof.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett led the T-Wolves to the playoffs 8 times (all between the 1996/97 and 2003/04 seasons), but he was not successful within them.  Garnett and Minnesota lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs 7 years in a row.  Important to note, it was not until 2003 when the T-Wolves had home court advantage in a playoff series (the prize: facing the 3-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers), but having a player like KG should have led to more success.

In 2003-2004, things began to change.  The T-Wolves went 58-24 in the Western Conference, earning the number 1 seed.  Garnett, who won the MVP that season, led his team to the Western Conference Finals, unfortunately losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.  That would be the last time KG made the playoffs in Minnesota.

As Garnett entered his 30s, losing was no longer going to cut it.  He had given his best years to Minnesota, but clearly the team was regressing (his last season in Minnesota they went 32-50); it was time for a fresh start.

Garnett to Boston

Big 3.jpg
Credit: Michael Dwyer

After many possibilities, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics July 31, 2007, teaming up with stars Paul Pierce (30) and Ray Allen (32), forming a “Big 3.”  The new core had a powerful talent base, and one thing in common: zero rings.  Each made the conference finals once prior to teaming up, but were entering the latter stages of their careers; simply put, the goal was simple: win a ring.

Win they did.

In 2007-2008, the Boston Celtics went 66-16, earning the best record in the league.  The team had a long playoff run, culminating in an NBA Championship, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games.  Kevin Garnett – as well as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce – finally won it all.  Garnett was third in the MVP voting that year, but did win the Defensive Player of the Year (his first).

The Celtics started off hot in 2008-2009, but Garnett suffered a knee injury as the season progressed.  This injury effected the rest of his season, ultimately forcing Garnett to miss the playoffs.  The Celtics, without their top defender (and the heart and soul of the team) lost to the Orlando Magic in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Garnett’s third season in Boston started slow, with the team as a whole getting off to a slow start.  Although the Celtics reached the playoffs, KG (age 33) had his worst numbers since his rookie season, and the team as a whole did not look as dominant as just a year ago, only going 50-32 (4th seed).  Nevertheless, once the playoffs began, the veteran team got to work.  Boston beat the Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat (47-35) in 5 games.  In the second round, they faced the 61-21 Cleveland Cavilers, led by NBA MVP LeBron James.  Shocking the world, the Celtics beat the Cavs in 6 games, ending Cleveland’s season (and LeBron’s first stint as a Cav).  In the Eastern Conference Finals, the C’s faced the reigning conference champions: the Orlando Magic (59-23), led by Dwight Howard.  Boston got off to a commanding 3-0 series lead, ultimately winning the series in 6 games.  Suddenly they were back in the NBA FInals, yet again versus the Lakers (57-25).  A competitive series, Boston had a 3-2 series lead going into Los Angeles, with two chances to win a title.  However, center Kendrick Perkins suffered an injury in Game 6 as the Lakers easily beat Boston… and in Game 7, although Boston led throughout 3 quarters in a low-scoring game, Los Angles was able to pull away, winning 87-79, earning their second title in a row.

In the 2010 offseason, LeBron James would go to Miami to team up with Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh, forming a roadblock for Boston during Garnett’s final years in Boston.

In 2011, the Celtics made it to the semifinals, but lost to the Miami Heat in 5 games, the first time LeBron was able to beat Boston in the playoffs.  The following campagin, there were only 66 games as the season began on Christmas due to a lockout.  Maybe the 16 less games helped Boston, but in the last year the Big 3 were together, they were able to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, facing LeBron James yet again.  After losing the first two games in Miami, Boston won games 3 and 4.  The series was tied going to Miami, but Paul Pierce hit a buzzer beater to win Game 5, as Boston took a 3-2 series lead.  It was at this point where LeBron went supernova in Boston, having one of the best games in his career as his team won Game 6.  Game 7 in Miami went down to the final minutes, but it was the Heat who emerged victorious, winning the game, and going on to win the NBA Finals.

Finals Years

KG Towns
Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Ray Allen would go on to sign with Miami in the offseason, and after a first round exit in 2013, Kevin Garnett was traded with Paul Pierce (and Jason Terry) for a treasure chest of future draft picks, in addition to Kim Kardashian’s ex (among others).  In 6 years in Boston, Garnett was an NBA Champion, as well as reaching the NBA Finals in 2010 (and the conference finals in 2012).

Garnett played 1.5 seasons in Brooklyn before being traded back home to Minnesota at the 2015 NBA trade deadline.  Garnett finished his career in Minnesota, serving as a mentor to young players such as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.  Prior to the 2016-2017 season, Garnett chose to retire after 21 seasons, finishing his career with numerous accolades and the cherry on top: a title.

Retiring Number 5

Garnett and Pierce.jpg
Credit: Charles Krupa

The majority of Garnett’s career took place in Minnesota, but an important chapter of his playing years was in Boston.  In 6 seasons as a Celtic, Garnett changed the culture of Boston, instituting a no-nonsense environment dedicated to winning.  Although Paul Pierce was the team captain during KG’s time in Boston (and since 2000), Garnett added a dynamic to the team that extended off of the basketball court.

In the 21 seasons prior to Garnett joining the Celtics, Boston had not won an NBA title (the longest drought in team history).  Between 1956 and 1986, Boston had won 16 championships, but in the years following the retirements of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish, the team suffered its worst stretch of basketball.  The team only made the playoffs 5 times following the 1992-1993 season, missing the playoffs 6 straight seasons in 1995-2001.  Pierce brought some success, but the team was clearly lacking until Garnett and Allen came to town.

Garnett was the guy everyone followed and emulated their intensity after.  It is commonly said the guys on a team follow the behavior of the best player on the team, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who did not fall in line with KG.  Even when the Big 3 started to age, they made the NBA Finals in 2010 when KG was 33, Allen was 34, and Piece was 32.  Two years later (and two years older), the team once again continued to win, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.  They beat a young Atlanta Hawks and young 76ers team.  They took the best team in the league to 7 games, a feat that should not go unnoticed, given that the best 3 players on the team were between the ages of 34 and 36.

“Kevin Garnett is the best all-around player the Celtics have ever had”

-Cedric Maxwell on Celtics Beat podcast

Yes Garnett only played for 6 years in Boston, but he was instrumental in making the team a successful franchise and organization.  He is spoken of fondly by players, both present and former.  1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell called Garnett the most talented and well-rounded player in team history (better defensively than Bird, and better offensively than Russell).  KG has said he bleeds green, and he is very fond of his time in Boston.  His impact in Boston stretched over into the present, as former teammate Avery Bradley transitioned from the Big 3 Celtics of the 21st century up until 2017, carrying the lessons he learned from his years with Garnett.  Kyrie Irving’s leadership since he got to Boston was recently compared to Garnett (or the fact he was a “Garnett-like” leader).

There is not a member of the current Celtics roster that played with KG… but there is one thing that shows the team honoring Garnett…

No one on the team wears number 5.

“Without a doubt, (Kevin Garnett’s) number will be retired in Boston”

-Paul Pierce

Since Garnett was traded in 2013, his number 5 has not been given to another player.  Ray Allen’s number 20 ended up being given to Gordan Hayward last season, and Rajon Rondo’s number 9 has been worn by others since he was traded in 2014.  Paul Pierce, a Celtics for 15 seasons, had his number retired in February, but I truly believe Garnett deserves to be next.

He has had an institutional impact on the franchise, and brought them back to there winning ways.  He was a key component of the most recent championship team, and his number has not been given out in 5 years.  Boston may simply just be waiting for Minnesota to retire Garnett’s number before doing so, or maybe players that have come to Boston since 2013 have not picked 5 as a way to respect KG… but number 5 is a good number, especially for a team with an already limited amount of options (the Celtics have retired 22 numbers), so I do not think it is the players doing in regards to number 5, but the organization’s decision.

Pedro Martinez was only a member of the Boston Red Sox for 7 years, yet Boston chose to retire his number 45 due to the immense success he had in Boston (typically the Red Sox do not retire your number unless you played for the team for 10 seasons).  The Miami Heat will most likely retire LeBron James number 6, even though he only played there for 4 seasons.

Boston does have a retired number problem, but I do not believe honoring the impact Kevin Garnett had on the Celtics would be part of the problem… it would be completely justified to me.

Danny Ainge (or Janos), if you’re reading this (and I know you are), RETIRE NUMBER 5 FOR KEVIN GARNETT!


Follow Nick Collins on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)

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