Kevin Garnett's fall from grace has been anything but graceful.
Each day seems to bring a new low for the 37-year-old. Each agonizing second of floor time brings him one step closer to retirement.
Losing a legend is never easy, but actually watching that flame flicker in front of our eyes is a particularly cruel trick of Father Time. Garnett plays like the headstrong heavyweight too proud to walk away, even though he's too slow to dodge the punches and too weak to throw any of his own.
That stubbornness exists for a reason. For the better part of the last two decades, KG was as good as anything the league had going.
He has too much justified pride to throw in the towel, so it's time someone throws it for him. The writing is on the wall...and all over the stat sheet. The next step for him to take is the one that removes him from the NBA hardwood forever.
If not for those seven letters stretched across the back of his jersey, he would no longer be recognizable.
This is nothing like The Big Ticket the basketball world has come to know over the last 18 years. This is a negative presence at either end of the floor, someone expected to lift the Brooklyn Nets to new heights but instead dragging them down by the day.
"Garnett is no longer a stopper, no longer an enforcer and no longer able to keep opponents honest with his offense," SI.com's Ben Golliver wrote when picking the 15-time All-Star for his All-Atrocious team of the league's worst starters.
It's hard saying this is Garnett at his worst. This is nothing like we've ever seen from him before.
His numbers have dramatically dropped across the board. He isn't even close to the player that started 68 games for the Boston Celtics last season, let alone one that's been carving out a Hall of Fame career since 1995.
|Expired Ticket: KG's Dramatic Decline|
His body won't let his mind play the way that it wants.
A top-notch stopper in the not-so-distant past—All-Defensive second-team selection as recent as 2011-12—has suddenly morphed into a sieve. At either post spot, he's getting mercilessly pounded at the defensive end. Opposing 4s have notched a 16.2 player efficiency rating (league average is 15.0) against him and opposing 5s have tallied a 23.1 PER against him this season, via 82games.com.
Garnett's vulnerability was uncomfortably apparent during a recent bout with longtime adversary Tim Duncan.
The two future Hall of Famers couldn't be headed for more different endings to their illustrious careers.
Duncan dropped in 15 points and five rebounds in 24 efficient minutes during his San Antonio Spurs' runaway 113-92 win over Garnett's Nets on Monday. It was simply par for the course for Duncan, who's managed 14.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in this, his 17th season in the league.
For Garnett, the game was a microcosm of this nightmarish season. He was awful (two points, 0-of-5 from the field—just his second time without a basket since his rookie campaign) and his Nets didn't look any better.
Duncan "was so much more active and productive than Garnett that it was nearly impossible to grasp that the two rivals, both 37, are separated by just one month," Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News wrote.
It was almost as hard to remember that these players still play in the same league:
Then again, that won't be the case for much longer. Even Garnett has to be hearing the final notes of his swan song.
Cutting His Losses
Garnett made a major gamble with his twilight years over the offseason.
It took some convincing, but eventually he bought into Brooklyn's championship vision—at least to the point that it provided a better alternative than sticking around with the rebuilding Boston Celtics.
He may not be feeling any buyer's remorse at this point. While the season has admittedly been a disaster, this team never got to find out if it had a championship ceiling. The rotation was ravaged by injuries out of the gate, and Brook Lopez's broken foot removed all possibilities that this group could ever come together.
This wasn't a bad bet on Garnett's part; it was more bad luck than anything.
But the mounting loss column and waning hopes have started to weigh on Garnett:
The man who once lit the collective fire of the basketball world with an emotional declaration that "Anything is possible" suddenly sounds like a man short on fuel and searching for excuses.
"We got guys beat up. We’re not a whole, period," Garnett said on Dec. 8, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. "The guys we have are trying to compete and fight and as you can see, it’s not enough."
There's an injury report playing a major role in Brooklyn's struggles that Garnett can't control. There's a coach in place that looks like he's not ready for this job or any other one. There are underwhelming totals up and down the stat sheet; Garnett isn't the only one failing to impress.
But KG was never just an on-court acquisition. Sure, his mid-range jumper could free up Lopez underneath and work well alongside Deron Williams in the pick-and-pop game.
But all of that was found money. His biggest assets were his leadership, his passion and his toughness—all three items that were woefully understocked prior to his arrival.
Qualities that continue to elude this franchise, perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that KG's time is up. He was supposed to have the loudest voice in the face of adversity. But this team doesn't raise a finger when it gets hit.
"It’s embarrassing, man,” Paul Pierce said, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. “You go out and you’re down 30 at the end of the third quarter, you give up 98 points in three quarters. It’s embarrassing."
That's what this entire final chapter has become for Garnett: embarrassing. Hard to stomach, too.
His tank is running on empty. There are no reserve supplies for him to draw from. His talent, his fire, his energy—they're all gone.
What's in their place now are questions about mortality, aging and the crippling effects of Father Time. And the chance to still walk away from this game on his terms.
He's not the type to give up the fight before the last bell has sounded. But he can see the scorecard—there are no more rounds after this.
At least, there shouldn't be. Reality has uncomfortably set in. It's time for him to walk away for good.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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