All the craziness around COVID-19 took a lot of attention away from one of the most excellent Hall of Fame classes ever, headlining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. While Kobe and Duncan were lucky to be lifers and win all their titles with the Lakers and Spurs, Kevin Garnett had to leave Minnesota to win a ring. He wasn’t happy about it.
It would be hard to find a player that didn’t want to give up on the team that drafted him as much as KG. Ask any small market team in a cold-weather state about getting free agents, and all you’ll hear is laughter combined with crying. Resigning draft picks equally tricky.
But KG was different. He had a no-trade clause in every contract and refused to leave the Timberwolves. A lot of people had to persuade him to accept a trade to Boston and fulfill his basketball destiny. It would be a historical travesty for Kevin Garnett to end his career without a championship ring. So after leaving Minneapolis with a heavy heart, he did everything necessary to make that sacrifice worth it.
Doc Rivers had some success in his coaching career, but it was all getting teams to overachieve. This team could only live up to expectations or underachieve. Rondo and Pierce were already there, but Allen and Garnett had just arrived. Figuring out the dynamics, pecking order, and managing egos on such a scale was a new challenge for Rivers. KG made it a lot easier on him.
“I got Kevin, Ray, and Paul, and the first three guys I had to go to were those three guys. We had this big meeting, and I asked them, ‘What are you going to give up to win?’ They are were looking at me like they didn’t exactly understand what I meant. I give Kevin a lot of [credit]; his question right back to me was ‘What do you need me to give up?’ and my answer was ‘Shots.’”Doc Rivers, Hoop Streams
Doc told all three he would need them to give up shots and be 100% committed to playing defense. It’s one of the most common themes with greatness on the basketball court; KG’s Hall of Fame classmate Tim Duncan in the best example of it. If the best player on the team is boxing out, rebounding, diving for balls, and doesn’t sulk and complain if he didn’t “get his shots,” everyone else will follow.
But, things never go smoothly. Doc found himself having a different problem later in the season. KG was so committed to winning and leading by example that he was taking too few shots! Maybe sacrifice a few per game to get others involved, but it came to a point where Rivers had to do something he never did in his career.
“Me and KG’s arguments were over him not shooting. I would call a time-out and yell at KG, ‘I SAID MOVE THE BALL!’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m doing.’ I said, ‘No, no, no; we’re saying move it to you so you can shoot it, not so you can pass it.’ Kevin was so unselfish, many times I had to give him a number before the game, ‘you have to take this many shots.’ He’s the only guy I ever had to do that to.”Doc Rivers, Hoop Streams
We often criticize coaches if a superteam isn’t winning (as much as we think they should.) With players of that caliber, a lot of times, it’s on them to set up a hierarchy. The Miami Heat started their dominance when Dwyane Wade went to LeBron and told him “this is your team.” For the Celtics, KG was the one who made it clear: it’s Pierce’s team, Ray needs to get his shots, and I’ll do the rest.
Duncan was like that his whole career, KG did it in Boston. Kobe passed the lob to Shaq and greeted Pau at 5 am to welcome him to the Lakers. Jordan passed to Kerr, and Steph took fewer shots to let KD do his thing. As much as we love individual rankings and discussions, there’s no I in TEAM. Kevin Garnett got that.