Kevin Garnett is not a patient man.
At 36, the power forward doesn't have the luxury of being patient or supporting a seemingly empty cause.
The Boston Celtics should be concerned.
In an interview with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Garnett reiterated that he had absolutely no intention of continuing his career any further if it meant he would "look bad":
Performance is something we all strive to be better at. I'm no different than that. Who wants to look bad? Who wants to come out here and look bad? I want to always bring something to the table. More importantly, I want to be able to enjoy the guys and the chemistry. When it starts to feel like work, I'm going to have to do something else.
Garnett's sentiments could apply to him and no one else. He could merely be making a reference to his personal performance and nothing else.
Except that he's not.
Pay extra attention to his desire to "enjoy the chemistry" he is a part of and his refusal to allow basketball to "feel like work."
Because that means something. If you're the Celtics, it means everything.
Garnett didn't forego retirement in favor of lining his already deep pockets with an extra $36 million. Not entirely. Returning to Boston had to do with contention, with the opportunity to snag his second championship ring.
Reading between the lines of his comments to Spears isn't necessary either. He himself has already admitted (via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com) as much:
"Like I said, look at themselves in the mirror including myself and better what I can do," Garnett said. "And try to figure out what I can do better to help this team."
For starters, the Celtics could be more mentally tough, something that is among the many things that separate this team from the C's squads in recent years.
"We built something here," Garnett said. "I'm not living in the past or nothing, but the reason why guys came back ... is because of what we built here and what we're known for, to defend. For some reason we got away from that, so we have to go back to our origins and figure it out."
Garnett's right; the Celtics have "built something here." They've built something that they believed in, that Garnett believed in. But has what they built proved, even once, that they're able to contend?
After a slew of bold and widely supported offseason moves, I'd like to say yes—but I'd be lying.
Heading into 2013, Boston sits two games under .500 and has lost seven of its last nine. Its 5-10 against teams with winning records and fresh off a loss to a horrible Sacramento Kings team.
Is Garnett really going to put up with such ineptitude much longer? Especially when he's doing his part?
The forward is averaging 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes on 51.8 percent shooting, right in line with the 18.3, 9.5 and 50.3 he averaged last season, respectively. Boston's defense also allows 13.6 points less per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
And yet, the Celtics aren't contending. Instead, they find themselves clinging to the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot by a mere half-game.
How is that fulfilling?
Is a 36-year-old who has over 1,400 games worth of wear and tear on his body, who's constantly tasked with defending out of position, supposed to be content with the current direction this team is headed in?
He can't be. And, per Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, he's not:
“Since I’ve been here we’ve always been a defensive team that’s been fueled by the defense that’s turned over to some offense,” said forward Kevin Garnett, who attempted a season-low six shots. “And right now we’re not that. Somehow through practice, through repetitions we’ve got to change that.”
Garnett said the Celtics are entering a critical stage in determining their season’s fate.
“We gotta keep working at this,” he said. “This is when you start to see who’s with you. This is when you see who really wants it, who really wants to get down and work and grind for it and we’re about to find that out.”
That doesn't exactly sound like a patient man, like a player who is willing to wade through the current chaos for an extended period of time. Nor should it.
Veterans who return for the sole purpose of contention aren't prepared to devote their remaining energy to a rebuilding franchise. Veterans aren't prepared or keen on expending energy on a rebuilding entity period.
But that's where Garnett currently finds himself—playing for a team that, right now, seems almost destined for a lottery finish.
I understand he's playing against those who he would consider family in Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, yet that's not enough. Remember, Garnett was so very close to hanging up his laces for good this past summer; he was on the verge of retirement.
The prospect of another championship pursuit got the best of him, though. And who could blame him? Boston was within a victory of yet another Finals appearance, and while Ray Allen had taken his talents to South Beach, the Celtics made a series of moves that actually made them better.
Or so we thought. Or so Garnett thought.
This isn't a team that is prepared to contend. Not when they're a faction whose success is predicated on defense, a facet of the game they've actually become deficient in.
Garnett himself noted that there has to be a sense of urgency behind their defensive cause. The same sense of urgency that brought this team one victory away from upsetting the Miami Heat. The same sense of urgency that nearly carried this team to the NBA Finals less than one year ago.
And the same sense of urgency that is currently nowhere to be found.
Though the makeup of Boston's roster is visibly different, its core is still intact. This is still the same team, with the same general skill set that allowed the fewest points (98.2) per 100 possessions of any team last season.
The Celtics are now 13th in points allowed (104.8) per 100 possessions, though, an increase that is not conducive with their 23rd-ranked offense.
So yeah, Boston needs to keep "working at this." It needs to re-establish its lost defensive identity and become, at the very least, a semblance of the team it was supposed to be.
Will Kevin Garnett stick around beyond this season if the Celtics don't make the playoffs?
More importantly, it must do so soon. Garnett sugar-coated nothing when he admitted that the Celtics are reaching a "critical stage" of the season, of their development.
This is the time when Boston must prove to itself, to Garnett, that it can turn things around. This is the time when it can either reverse its misfortune or perpetuate them.
This is the time when we'll find out what these Celtics, Garnett included, are both made and capable of (via Blakley):
"These are dog days," Garnett said. "This is really where you really see who's with you. Ain't nobody cheering, ain't no lights on us and I love this right now."
Why does he love it, though?
"Because this is where all the plastic people melt," he explained.
Well, this is also where his future in Boston, whether he now has one or not, gets hashed out.
Because if the Celtics "melt" this season, if they bend so far that they break, Garnett isn't going to stick around to pick up the pieces.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 30, 2012.