Copyright AFP/GETTY IMAGES, photo by Ronald Martinez
For a man who has made a billion dollars on wedding invitations, Glen Taylor sometimes isn’t a very bright guy. Yesterday’s comments to the daily beat writers–"KG tanked it" is the money quote–is a perfect example of how Taylor keeps cutting off the nose of this franchise to spite its face by his continual denigration of Garnett’s role and impact on the team during the tail end of his dozen years with the Wolves.
First, let’s give Taylor’s comments their tiny due. When Garnett was shut down with five games to go last season I don’t think I was alone in believing it was at the instigation of team management rather than Garnett himself, despite comments from the front office and KG’s agent, Andy Miller, that he was indeed hurt. The statements by Miller and Garnett in response to Taylor’s latest charge clearly imply that it was KG who instigated his removal from the lineup, albeit because of legitimate injury rather than a desire to secure a better draft pick by diminishing the ballclub’s chances of winning.
But for that miniscule drop of truthful satisfaction, what has Taylor wrought for himself and his franchise? When it comes to tanking, his comments reek of baldfaced hypocrisy. There hasn’t been a more blatant example of trying to lose a game that impacted the number of lottery balls a team would receive than the finale of the 2005-06 season, a year before the KG absence that is the subject of Taylor’s allegation. During that game, versus Memphis, the Wolves *benched all their promising young players* down the stretch for the likes of scrubs such as Bracey Wright and Ronnie Dupree, allowed a Memphis opponent an uncontested layup in the waning seconds of regulation, and then had Mark Madsen chuck up seven three-pointers in a double-overtime loss. Mind you, this was all after the ballclub shelved both KG and Ricky Davis due to "injury." My column that night was entitled, "The One-Pointer: Wolves Disgrace Themselves." Anyone who watched knew exactly what was happening. And now Glen Taylor has the gall to say "I don’t like that so much" with respect to tanking, and then drop the anvil on Garnett?
Look, Kevin Garnett is no saint–he’s human. He was two-faced in his support/nonsupport of first Flip Saunders and then Kevin McHale. I ripped him for it at the times they were happening. He also was a lousy general manager, arguing on behalf of Troy Hudson and Mike James, among others. He openly feuded with Wally Szczerbiak (along with most of the roster). But Taylor’s remarks continually besmirching KG since he dealt away the superstar–from the "freeze out" of Wally and team split between pro and con KG acolytes to the demand for a sizable contract extension last season to the pettiness of negotiations of how he should be honored on his return to Minnesota this weekend–do nothing but poison his own well. They collide face first into some hard realties ignored by Taylor’s selectively biased perspective.
1. Kevin Garnett gave this franchise everything he had. The Minnesota Timberwolves were a standing joke–a dysfunctional gulag on the frozen prairie–before he arrived and for a dozen years he rebutted expectations that escalated into belittling demands that he abandon this franchise and go find a bigger, better market in which to play.
2. Within the fraternity of coaches and players in the NBA–the people who are on the inside, who genuinely know what’s what–Garnett has an impeccable reputation as a player who doesn’t stint on practicing or playing at anything other than 100 percent. His ability to set the tone from the top of the pecking order is of enormous value in sweeping away a lot of the motivational bullshit that many coaches and general managers–and, by extension, owners–have to endure when sheperding a ballclub through a long 82-game season.
3. Because of Garnett’s sterling reputation and the frozen geography of the Timberwolves’ locale, Taylor’s calling out of his loyal superstar pretty much ensures that no prominent free agent will want to come to Minnesota in the near future. Remember what happened to the Bulls and Jerry Krause when he got into a power struggle with Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? A similar dynamic now seems likely here.
I am on record as admiring the amount of money Taylor has put into trying to build a winner here, and it would be hypocritical of me to discourage the owner from speaking his mind. Give me the free-wheeling guy who believes honesty (even if it is only his version of it) is the best policy over some dissembling, secretive groupthink spinmeisters. But this is a food fight Glen Taylor cannot win. Frankly, I’m surprised he doesn’t realize that. He and his organization would do well to drop this quixotic KG fixation and tend to the business at hand. Because contrary to all the wonderful spin we’ve heard locally about this great Garnett trade, the Celtics have the best record in the NBA and Glen Taylor is answering questions about whether or not his current ballclub will go into the tank for a third straight year.