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Why Brooklyn Nets' Title Hopes Are Riding on Kevin Garnett for 2013-14 Season

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Why Brooklyn Nets' Title Hopes Are Riding on Kevin Garnett for 2013-14 Season
USA TODAY Sports

When the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets hammered out the details of their nine-player blockbuster trade earlier this summer, one man held the power to veto the entire deal.

Kevin Garnett, a 37-year old with 18 years of NBA service on his first-ballot Hall of Fame resume, was one of the fortunate few to have a no-trade clause in his contract. Had it not been for a two-hour phone call with the deal's other headliner, Paul Pierce, Garnett was ready to exercise that right.

Now that the swap has traversed the long road from rumor mill to official league record, the Big Ticket's impact hasn't waned one bit. He's still the one holding the key to the transaction's success.

More than that, though, Garnett now carries the fate of Mikhail Prokhorov's nine-figure, championship-hopeful investment on his shoulders. 

 

A Race with Father Time

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When Garnett made his NBA debut on Nov. 3, 1995, Bill Clinton was two days away from being re-elected to a second term as president of the United States and Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" was in the middle of its eight-week stay at the top of the Billboard charts.

If that trip down memory lane exhausted your mind a bit, imagine the impact that the years since have had on Garnett's 220-pound frame. On second thought, you don't have to imagine it. His recent workloads speak volumes about the damage that has been done.

At one point in his career, he was as dependable as any player in the league. He played at least 80 games in eight of his first 10 seasons, missing that mark only in 1996-97 (when he appeared in 77 games) and the strike-shortened 1998-99 season (when he played in 47 of a possible 50 games).

While's he still managed to largely avoid catastrophic injury (although a knee ailment kept him out of the entire 2009 postseason), he's started to show some vulnerability of late. He's missed at least 11 games in five of the past six seasons, including the 14 he sat out in 2012-13. His minutes have dipped below 30 per game twice since 2009.

Elsa/Getty Images

Brooklyn's rookie coach Jason Kidd may be plenty green in his new career, but his plan to limit the physical demands on Garnett sounds like it came from a polished veteran. 

"Probably no back-to-backs for him," Kidd told the Daily News' Stefan Bondy. "Those are just topics we're talking about, throwing around to keep these guys' minutes down because we are deep...you want to be fresh going into the playoffs."

Playoffs aren't the goal in Brooklyn; they're the expectation. With a clean bill of health, they're justifiably expected.

As for the ultimate goal, bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy to the Barclays Center, the Nets will need more than just a healthy Garnett. They'll need plenty of efficient production from him, too.

 

On-Court Impact

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Although the All-Star support is still there, Garnett's days of performing at an All-NBA level are long gone. He hasn't averaged 20 points or 10 rebounds since the 2006-07 season.

But Brooklyn didn't bring him in expecting gaudy statistics. Not in the traditional sense, at least.

Garnett entered this league as an above-average player as evidenced by his 15.8 player efficiency rating in his rookie year, via Basketball-Reference.com, and continues to separate himself from the pack (19.2 PER in 2012-13).

Not only that, he can still turn All-Star opponents into ordinary men. Yes, even those supercharged athletes flooding the power forward position, a spot where the elder statesman held his matchup to a pedestrian 15.4 PER last season, via 82Games.com.

From an X's and O's standpoint, he should be the ideal complementary piece for this roster. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

His mechanical mid-range jumperhe shot 46.2 percent from beyond 10 feet in 2012-13is a boon to Brooklyn. He's the ideal screener for Deron Williams, either exploding to the basket or popping out for a clean look. He can pass from the post or the elbow, and as an offensive threat, he holds his defender to create driving lanes for Williams, Pierce and Joe Johnson and room to roam for Lopez.

He can still be an elite glass cleaner when he needs to (13.7 boards in six playoff games) and should help Lopez more efficiently maximize his raw defensive potential (career 1.7 blocks per game).

Of course, even when Garnett was at his stat-sheet-stuffing best he still brought so much more to the table. He's an all-time great on the floor and a living legend away from it.

 

What the Box Score Doesn't Show

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

His intensity is contagious, which explains why he's loathed by his rivals and revered by his teammates. There is no middle ground with Garnett; his fuse is forever lit.

He's not going to hold his tongue in practice if he feels his teammates are giving anything less than maximum effort. His championship mindset, validated by the banner that still hangs in the TD Bank Garden, will instill the confidence in his teammate's that they can thrive collectively even with so many new faces in the team photo.

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The Nets spent last season searching for an identity. That pursuit grew even more difficult after a midseason coaching change.

Garnett's like the CEO who still brings his lunch pail to work every day. No matter which players are around him, his team will be a blue-collar bunch.

Defensive energy, offensive aggression, unwavering hustle are staples of Garnett's game. His teammates have two choices: get with him or get out of his way.

Despite today's rush for manufactured dynasties, championships aren't purchased. But if an executive goes searching hard enough, he can find the price tag for heart, grit and unabashed confidence.

The basketball world can mock Prokhorov for his $80-plus million luxury tax hit all it wants. If this team cashes in on its potential and takes home the 2014 title, the other billionaire owners might consider this a bargain.

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