Kevin Garnett isn't going out like this.
Or is he?
Before we assume the "it's just an All-Star game" stance, we must understand that he sounded nothing short of ominous when asked to clarify such a remark (via Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com):
'This is definitely my last All-Star Game,' he repeated.
Garnett has two years and $23.5 million remaining on his contract after this season, and considering he was voted a starter at age 36, what's to stop him from making the roster in either of his next two seasons?
'Y'all don't know what I know,' he said. 'So, let's put it like this: I'm more than grateful for going, but I'm not going to act like I've got more All-Star Games in me, so I'm actually going to enjoy this one with some friends and family.'
What is it we "don't know," Kevin?
Since the prospect of the NBA discontinuing the All-Star game is as far fetched a notion as there is, our brains immediately take us toward a potential retirement.
Garnett wrestled with hanging his laces up for good after last season, only to return. Except here's the thing: He returned to play only for the Boston Celtics and only under Doc Rivers.
With the rumor mill surrounding his future churning at an unprecedented rate, it's conceivable that he would opt to retire in lieu playing amidst perpetual ambiguity or playing anywhere else at all for the next two years.
Strike that, it doesn't just seem believable—it seems probable.
This is just Garnett's sixth season in Beantown, but over the last half decade or so, he's grown fiercely loyal to the Celtics and their fans like only he does. Boston is where he won his first and only championship. It's where he solidified his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
And it's where he still wants to retire (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
On a last note, I just want to say that I love my situation here. I don't know what y'all sources or whoever's making up these bull---- --- articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places. But I bleed green and I continue to do that. And if it's up to me then I'm going to retire a Celtic. So I just want everybody to know that, all right?
More so a display of definitive resistance than a farewell, Garnett's recent sentiments are telling.
Of what, exactly?
Potentially the end.
Garnett can't want to deal with this type of ambivalence nearly two decades into his career. He came back to play for the Celtics, and only the Celtics. He can't want to be used as trade fodder.
Admittedly, Garnett has more control over that aspect than anybody. He's one of four NBA players (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan) with a no-trade clause. He can veto any deal general manager Danny Ainge brings to him.
But he can't want it to come to that, because it's a no-win situation. Either Garnett rejects the trade, fractures his relationship with the organization and taints his legacy as the player that wouldn't leave, or he accepts the deal, and plays out his career with a team he doesn't genuinely care about.
Garnett seems to be going with Option C: Using his retirement as leverage.
Using his subtle "y'all don't know what I know" routine, he is potentially scaring off any interested suitors. Moving his contract is going to be difficult enough given his age, but no team is going to jump at the prospect of sending assets Boston's way for an essential rental.
By hinting at retirement, Garnett all but ensures he finishes out the year in Boston and can retire a Celtic. For those wondering if the ever committed forward would forgo the final two years of his contract, the answer is yes. Garnett himself has even said as much.
Speaking with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Garnett was asked about his retirement plans and subsequently admitted he would make a decision on his status every summer:
I don't know. I will make a decision every year. I want to make sure I am having fun. I want to make sure I am productive. I got a lot of responsibility on me right now. I'll figure it out. But right now I'm still enjoying myself for the most part.
You have to wonder if Garnett is still enjoying himself, though.
Boston's most recent victory took a lot out of Garnett. Life since Rajon Rondo's injury has taken a lot out of Garnett. And he's not shy about admitting it (via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald):
The last four or five days have been exhausting. Mentally more than physical. The three overtimes against Denver was emotionally draining, the travel, having to come in here and prepare after losing to Charlotte, so yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
At 36 and with more than 17 years of NBA burn on his body, Garnett seems to be succumbing to the rigors of a long season, at least verbally.
Part of me doesn't want to believe that, and part of me still doesn't. Garnett can't retire after this season. Not when Rondo won't be on the court to see him off. Not when Pierce is still donning Celtic green himself. Not when this team isn't at the strength necessary to make the run Garnett returned to make.
That part of me is fueled by Ainge rejecting the notion that Garnett is going to retire upon season's end.
Per Murphy, the perennial All-Star hasn't discussed retirement with Ainge:
Kevin was very tired after the game last night. He's been grinding every day for us. And he's one of the people who is carrying this team. Sometimes under those circumstances those thoughts can occur to someone, but we've never had that conversation.
Was he simply caught up in the heat of the moment? Was he just tired after another physically demanding battle? Were his comments just in reference to the All-Star game and nothing else?
Only Garnett actually knows. And as the only player in league history to have posted 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 blocks and steals over his career, he's earned that right.
He's earned the right to make us teeter between desperation and insanity attempting understand what he means, attempting to predict what his next move is.
The Garnett we know wouldn't retire. Unless he knows that Ainge is about to blow this faction straight to hell, he wouldn't leave without giving it one more go with both a healthy Pierce and Rondo.
But the Garnett we know doesn't exist anymore.
He's still the same loyal teammate, the same unrelenting athlete he has always been. For the first time, though, he's tired. He's been asked to assume a role most 36-year-olds can't even begin to fill, while coping with the politics that come with playing for a team shrouded in unyielding adversity.
"Y'all don't know what I know."
Those are the words we must remember when the season's over. The same words that asserted we knew nothing, and thus provided us with all the knowledge we needed.
The same words that set the stage for Garnett to retire upon season's end the way we always knew he would—on his terms.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.