Is It Time for Kevin Garnett to Walk Away from the NBA?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

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Decisions like the one facing 37-year-old Brooklyn Nets big man Kevin Garnett are never easy.

Confronted with retirement questions for the past several summers, his body seems to be suggesting (rather vociferously, I might add) he should choose the affirmative. Whether his head or his heart will agree remains to be seen.

His hardwood appearances come fewer and farther between than they used to, bearing almost no resemblance to his game film from yesteryear. Save for a trademark scream here or a chest-pound there, he was unrecognizable if not for those seven letters stitched between his shoulder blades.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 9: Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Barclays Center on February 9, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
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For the first time in his 19-year career, he posted a below-average player efficiency rating (13.3), per He also set personal lows in scoring (6.5), field-goal percentage (44.1) and win shares (1.2).

He was invisible during Brooklyn's season-ending 96-94 loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday night, finishing with eight rebounds, two points and two turnovers in a shade under 25 minutes of work. In typical Garnett fashion, he was gone before the media had the chance to discuss what might have been the final game of his career.

"Garnett didn't speak to media after the game. These losses hurt too much for him to handle," CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote. "Whether that's fair or professional or reasonable or whatever, is irrelevant. This is KG, and that's how he handles defeat, in crushing personal anguish."

Other than providing some clarity on his future, what's left for him to say, anyway?

Frustrated Nets fans are looking for answers that Garnett's body simply doesn't have.

BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 10: Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets during a game against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 10, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
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What happened to the player who put up 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Boston Celtics last season? Where was this defensive anchor brought in to save the franchise's extremely expensive championship dreams? Had he lost his leadership edge, or did his words simply ring as hollow as his stat sheets?

Garnett did what he could to block out the external noise, but really, that was the least of his concerns. A player with his combination of passion, skills and smarts would hear far worse things from himself than anyone else could dish out.

Frustrated with his declining production, the NBA's pillar of toughness cracked.

"I’m not happy with my play right now," he said midway through Brooklyn's second-round series, via Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel. "... It's frustrating."

That was the PG version that he shared with the media. Imagine how the unfiltered one sounded inside his head.

MIAMI, FL - MAY 08: Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets sits dejected on the bench during the fourth quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 8, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO U
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His fiery competitiveness hasn't lost a single degree, but that heat can't block the tightening grip of Father Time. Odometers don't lie: 1,377 regular-season games and another 143 playoff contests have stripped him of the physical tools that sparked one of the premier careers of his generation.

"The mind is still willing — watch him 'assistant coaching' during time outs and you can tell he knows the game and he still has a passion for it — but the flesh is weak," wrote NBC Sports' Kurt Helin. "He does not cover ground on defensive rotations like the 2008 KG. He misses shots that used to be automatic."

A transcendent talent during his prime, KG is now someone who simply needs to be hidden at both ends of the floor. Lost athleticism has sapped his effectiveness as a defender, and his offensive contributions came from a moderately successful (and that's being generous) mid-range jumper.

Shot chart via

He's not one to make excuses. Those might not even exist in his world.

Even as a mere shadow of his old form, that shadow still follows the same paths he's plotted since debuting in November of 1995. It's still leaving imprints on defenders slamming into his screens, still barking orders at the other players on the floor, still throwing its wiry frame around under the basket.

He's giving everything he has, but there's just nothing left to give.

Frankly, there's nothing left for him to do either.

His fingerprints are already smeared across the NBA annals. He's been a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock for years. If he walks away now, he'll leave as the league's 14th-best scorer (25,626 points), 10th-best rebounder (14,201) and 18th-best shot-blocker (2,010) of all time.

He's been an All-Star (15 times), an MVP (2003-04), a Defensive Player of the Year (2007-08) and a world champion (2008). His legendary trash-talking deserves its own chapter in the game's history books. Players have mimicked his style down to his after-the-whistle rejections.

No matter when he chooses to leave, his presence will be felt long after his departure.

The time to make that exit is now, even if his financial advisers would not agree:

There isn't a harder call to make than the "R" word in professional sports. No one wants to bolt too soon, but no one wants to stay too long.

This is the only life he's ever known. He was all of 19 years old when he first donned what would become his iconic No. 21 Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.

MINNEAPOLIS - MARCH 30:  Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves stands on the court with the ball on hand during a game against the Miami Heat at the Target Center on March 30, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Heat won 92-77.  NOTE TO USER: U
David Sherman/Getty Images

Those who have found themselves in his shoes, including his coach Jason Kidd, can empathize with the gravity of this moment:

Garnett doesn't seem like the type who would be comfortable with overstaying his welcome. Not even for another eight-figure deposit in his bank account, which, by the way, should be just fine without it.

"Garnett will never be a role-player on a contender; he's the Ticket, he's the show," Rolling Stone's Jeff Allen wrote. "He will be buried with his sword."

As good as that sounds, it seems as if that bridge has already been crossed. He already is a part-time role player (career-low 20.5 minutes per game in 2013-14) and not even for a contender.

Cash-strapped and already out both of their 2014 draft picks, the Nets could be years away from relevance.

Unlike Brooklyn, there is no uphill war for Garnett to wage. He's plummeting down a steep decline, a terrifying tumble that can be stopped at any time.

Emotionally, leaving this game behind him will be one of the hardest choices (if not the most difficult) he'll ever have to make. Logically, though, the verdict has already been reached.

Whatever demons might haunt his decision won't be nearly as formidable as the mental battles he'd face by playing another season so far beneath his standard. As sad as it will be to see him go, the thought of him subjecting himself to another year like this is far more dreadful.


Statistics used courtesy of


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