How Jason Kidd Can Maximize Kevin Garnett Next Season

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How Jason Kidd Can Maximize Kevin Garnett Next Season
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Kevin Garnett is a warrior, an accomplished veteran and an NBA legend. But at 38 years old, he's not what he used to be.

KG has put together a career that will someday be remembered in the Hall of Fame. But for now, he’s a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

While hanging up his kicks for good is a possibility for Garnett this summer, it's more than likely that he'll spurn retirement and play out the final year of his contract with Brooklyn. Per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:

Still, all indications have been — despite the drop in production this season — Garnett will be back in Brooklyn for what would be the 20th season of his stellar NBA career. The fact is $12 million is an awful lot of money – no matter how much you’ve made in the past – and after playing much, much better over the final few months of the season, it would be easy to see Garnett agreeing to rejoin Pierce for one final season in Brooklyn before riding off into the sunset next summer.

Garnett will be exorbitantly overpaid next year. But that doesn’t mean that head coach Jason Kidd won’t be able to make the most out of what will presumably be KG’s final season as a professional basketball player.

 

Follow Spurs, Heat diagram

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Understanding from both sides will be vital for Brooklyn's success next season.

Prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, TNT analyst Jeff Van Gundy made an interesting point, one that could be of great help to Kidd next year.

Van Gundy took note of how Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and the San Antonio SpursGregg Popovich have created environments in which a player may ride the bench for several consecutive games, then come in and hit a big shot or make a play in a crucial moment.

The Heat and Spurs, both perennial title contenders in recent years, are void of egos. All players put their team before themselves and are wiling to do whatever it takes to win—which sometimes means being a cheerleader.

Even as a rookie coach last year, Kidd seemed to have a pretty good handle on a locker room full of established, veteran players. And to some extent, Kidd followed the Spoelstra-Popovich model of player usage.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Miami's commitment to keeping Wade healthy has paid off.

But next season, Kidd needs to take that method to another level with KG. Think of it as the Dwyane Wademaintenance program,” only multiplied by two.

Forget about the $12 million—Garnett will be nothing more than a role player next season. Mason Plumlee proved to be extremely productive in his rookie campaign, and the Nets will have stud center Brook Lopez coming back from a broken foot.

Brooklyn doesn’t need Garnett, but since it has him, it might as well make the most of him. And despite all that Garnett has done throughout his illustrious career, Kidd shouldn’t feel pressured to overplay the Big Ticket simply because he is who he is.

In late September, before the 2013-14 season began, Kidd approached Garnett about not playing on consecutive nights. Per Adi Joseph of USA Today:

That doesn't mean there won't be bumps. Kidd spoke with Garnett recently about limiting the 37-year-old's wear and tear by not allowing him to play games on consecutive days.

"It didn't go too well," Garnett said. "I understand what he's saying. He just wants to make sure I'm durable. ... I just don't want to be told anything. I think I've earned the right to have an opinion on something that I'm doing. From a chemistry standpoint, I think it's important for me to be out there with everybody."

Fewer games for Garnett, who averaged over 20 minutes a night in 2013-14, will result in more impactful playing time when he is on the floor. He’ll have fresher legs and will have a better chance of eluding nagging long-term health issues, like the back injury that sidelined him for 19 games in March.

Clear, positive communication will be needed between Kidd and Garnett in order to make this work. But more regular-season rest for KG will benefit the Nets during 2014-15 and even more so in the playoffs.

 

Play KG at backup center

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
The Big Ticket might not love playing center, but it's better for the Nets.

Garnett prefers to line up as a power forward. He’s made that known on several occasions, most recently after the Nets defeated the Heat on January 10 this season.

“I have no comment on [playing center],” he told reporters with a smile. “It’s not my preference, but it is what it is. Whatever we have to do to win. It is what it is. Should’ve put that s--t in my contract.”

KG’s wishes are all well and good, but numbers don’t lie. And this past season’s numbers indicate that Garnett was much better as a center.

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Per 48 minutes, the veteran big man had a player efficiency rating of 16.5 while playing center, which was a significant step up from his 10.7 PER as a power forward, according to 82games.com.

While the slender, 6'11" Garnett is typically a bit physically overmatched by his opponent, his desire and heart often level the playing field. And in the event that the Nets encounter a behemoth like Roy Hibbert or Dwight Howard next year, the 7’0” Lopez should be up to the task.

Lopez’s foot, which was diagnosed as broken on December 21, forced Kidd to play Garnett more often and in varying lineups throughout the season.

But if all goes according to plan health-wise next season, Kidd should slot Garnett into a reserve-center role in order to stretch the defense, open the paint and get KG some looks from the perimeter.

 

Have realistic expectations

It's going to be more about passion than ability for KG next year.

Coming into this season, it was hard to underestimate Garnett.

When the Nets swung a deal for Garnett and Paul Pierce over the summer, they looked like a legitimate superteam. Plus, outside of his rookie year, the Big Ticket had never scored fewer 14.3 points per game.

But in 2014, he averaged less than seven points a night.

This was the year that Garnett’s age finally caught up with him. He genuinely looked old at certain points throughout the season, which was something that the world hadn’t really seen before.

Sure, being 36 and 37 made him seem old on paper in previous years, but KG put up over 15 points and eight boards from 2011 to 2013.

This season was different. There were fewer highlight plays and more criticism, fewer juicy box scores and more frequent references to his age.

USA TODAY Sports
KG and Kidd can make this work next year.

But now it’s time to lower those expectations, forget about his years as a superstar and instead focus on who he is now. It’s imperative to Brooklyn’s success next year that Kidd finds a way to maximize the veteran big man in what will likely be Garnett’s 20th and final season in the NBA.

Less playing time (and a clear understanding of it), more minutes at center and lowered expectations for the 15-time All-Star will result in a more rejuvenated, effective player at Kidd’s disposal next season.

He won't be the KG of old, but if the situation is handled correctly, Kidd will squeeze every last ounce out of the legend that is Kevin Garnett.

 

All stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Contract information was taken from hoopshype.com.

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