Ever since Kevin Garnett entered the NBA as a teenager, he has been a unique entity. Garnett's rare mix of size, athleticism, skill and intensity has been unmatched over his 17-year career. That is what makes this most recent bout with free agency so difficult to predict: there is no precedent.
During the fateful summer of 2007 that would bring Garnett to Boston and be closely followed by his first championship, he signed a three-year contract extension worth $64.4 million. This sign-and-trade contract came due after the Miami Heat knocked the Celtics out of the Eastern Conference finals earlier this month.
In a few short weeks, it will be decision-time for the 36-year-old veteran—time to decide whether to stay or go. As recently as six months ago, it was almost assumed that this would be it for Garnett. After a lackluster season the year before, this was his swan song.
However, as he has done most of his career, Garnett used the outside opinions as motivation and played better than anyone thought he could. All along the way he was his usual self, barking profanities on the court and expressing gratitude to his "old man"-saying haters off it.
An argument can be made that no matter the outcome of these NBA Finals, Garnett was the most valuable player in the playoffs. His plus/minus totals were just absurd and there was no fanbase more horrified than the Celtics' when he went to the bench in a close game.
The move from his usual spot at the 4 to his new home at center signaled this change in his game. No longer was an aging Garnett matched up with younger and stronger power forwards. Now he was dealing with one of the weaker positions in the game.
Garnett simply torched the likes of Spencer Hawes, Jason Collins and Joel Anthony on his way to averaging his first playoff 20-10 since the championship season in 2008. Garnett was doing things that no 36-year-old, 17-year veteran should be doing.
Along with his astounding career, Garnett has be summarily paid for his performances. This contract will not be about making up for his prior production, it will be solely deserved for what he produces in the future.
Along with being one of a select group of athletes who have signed more than one $100 million contract in their careers, Garnett has been among the top-five highest paid NBA players every season since just before the turn of the century.
All of this just makes his value this offseason all the more difficult to predict. Even old teammates have come out and said that he wants to stay in Boston, but who can know what these rumors truly mean.
Garnett will not be a huge fan of sticking around a rebuilding project. Though the Celtics do have the ability to continue winning should they re-sign a few pieces and use their considerable cap-room intelligently.
Will Garnett return to Boston at a discounted rate? Looking at this objectively from the outside, it would not be surprising. Garnett has a four-year-old daughter who only knows her dad in green and has expressed great appreciation of the Boston fans. On top of that is head coach Doc Rivers, who has been credited a lot with the revival of Garnett this season thanks to smart management of minutes.
It is likely that Garnett will wait and see what offers come his way and what changes the Celtics roster will undergo in the coming weeks. Only Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley are under contract in terms of meaningful players.
On the other hand, you have to realize Garnett's considerable exterior worth to the Celtics franchise. He has become a beloved figure in the New England area for his screaming Jumbotron introductions as much as his fourth-quarter defense.
Keeping in mind that Garnett is coming off a season in which he earned $21.2 million, there will be a considerable drop from that.
An interesting factor in this whole thing will be to see who is wrapped up first, Garnett or Tim Duncan. He has been so closely compared and analyzed in relation to the Spurs superstar for the entirety of their careers, the competition will not end now. Duncan made $22 million last season in the final year of his contract and will be having the same discussions as Garnett.
While you have to figure some team out there will be willing to offer Garnett a big contract, the Celtics are a different beast entirely. Danny Ainge has built their team around the idea of having cap space and not tying up players in long-term deals. The Celtics GM has also made known in the past that he is not a sentimental sort.
If Garnett returns to Boston next season, it will be for one or two years for somewhere between $10 million and $15 million per year.
Objectively, that number should be considerably higher, especially when looking amongst the free agent class of 2012. You know it will be a strange summer when the three best unrestricted free agents on the market are all 36 years old or older, (Garnett, Duncan, Steve Nash).
Whether they have 1,380 career games or not, there just are not that many talented centers in the league. Someone will offer Garnett more money or more years than Boston will, and the decision will fall squarely on the same back that carried the Celtics through the postseason this spring—the back of 17-year veteran Kevin Garnett.