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Kevin Garnett's Quiet Bounceback Will Cap Career You Couldn't Ignore

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2014

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Who said NBA players can't contribute in their 20th season? Whoever you are, don't let Kevin Garnett know how you feel.

Garnett is averaging 7.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in only 23.8 minutes per game during his second season with the Brooklyn Nets, and his playing time is up a tick from last year.

He's playing better defense. He's more comfortable under Lionel Hollins' rotations than he was under Jason Kidd's, when he would rarely play more than six or seven consecutive minutes at a time. Even if KG isn't the superstar he used to be (who is at 38 years old?), he's still somehow a contributor, a remarkable feat guys like him and Tim Duncan have accomplished at advanced ages. 

Both Garnett and Duncan have adjusted roles late in their careers, happily taking backseats to younger, current stars. It only contributes to the "leader" characterization both of them boast. But Garnett didn't always carry such a moniker.

Garnett was a guy who "couldn't win" at one point in his career, only further showing just how silly it is when athletes get that label. Paul Pierce had it too. So did Ray Allen. They vanquished it when they all came together in Boston to earn their first rings in 2008. 

The way we rewrite reputation mid-career is nonsensical in that way.

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You're not a winner if you don't have a ring. You're a winner if you do have one. It's as binary as it can illogically be, and yet people still think like this when it comes to sports. 

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It's how Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony earn unsavory reputations just because neither has been to an NBA Finals.

Actually, "earn" is the wrong word choice. They didn't earn it. They didn't strive for it. 

They were strong actors in an unfortunate 1860s play. The "can't win" label was a tomato, thrown from one of the obnoxiously drunk fans, Shia LaBeouf's greatest inspiration. 

Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote about this concept last week and even mentioned Garnett's former reputation when trying to dispel the myth of having to garner a ring to be an overall winner:

The Western Conference bloodbath has created a lot of narrative victims over the last 15 or 20 years — and continues to do so today. Kevin Garnett couldn’t get out of the first round for seven years, and then he made the conference finals in Minnesota just once — in 2004, when the Wolves racked up the no. 1 seed and home-court advantage, an edge that helped in eking out a Game 7 home win over the Kings in the second round. Had they lost that game, the narrative gods would have rendered Garnett a loser — until he arrived in Boston and earned a ring with better teammates battling through the weaker conference.

Now, though, we do remember Garnett as one of the NBA's ultimate winners, in the same category as others like Duncan and Kobe Bryant, the faces of their generation. 

Kobe came into the league in 1996. Duncan in 1997. Garnett was in '95. They set a tone by the time the mid-2000s arrived: brutal, intense winning, though they all found success in their own individualized ways.

Garnett was always the most intense guy in the room. You didn't even need to be near him to see that. It's why the below interview with Rajon Rondo is one of the best (and most genuine) caught-on-camera moments in recent memory.

As great as Garnett was in his prime, this is what we're going to remember him for, right? The absolute craziness that no other human being in our lives could match in a similar way. And that's part of why we're seeing him succeed into 2014-15, which could, for all we know, end up being his final NBA season. 

Garnett has been better during his second year in Brooklyn. The per-36 numbers may be remarkably similar, but the actual production isn't. 

KG was banged up last year and got off to a horrid start to the season. Even though he recovered to have a strong second half, he never really contributed as much as he could.

“My mindset changed June 1, when I got back to my regimen,” Garnett said a couple games into this season, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. “I got back to what I know, I got back to what made me great over these years, I got back to who I am. 

"I’ve been ready from Day 1 for camp. I didn’t tell the world because you never know what tomorrow is, but I’m ready this year. I really want to say something else, but I’m not messing around. I’m here. I’m here.”

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Now, he's back to being KG, maybe not as productive as he was in Minnesota or even in the later Boston years, but the traits we came to appreciate about Garnett are still present.

He defends. He communicates on defense. He leads. He passes. And he can still knock down shots from mid-range.

Garnett has meshed well with Hollins on both sides of the floor, even facilitating out of the high post a little more than he did under Kidd. He's become that much more valuable to the Nets offense with the team running more pick-and-roll than it ever has during the Deron Williams era. Meanwhile, he's become a closer for his defense, which remains strong among a squad of big men who have struggled to guard well during 2014-15.

The illegal screens, the ones which follow KG everywhere he goes and somehow evaporate from his skill set and condense in his teammates', are all over. That's one of the most fun parts of Garnett's game. It's not that his picks are so strong; it's that whichever team he's on immediately becomes a harder screen-setting team.

Ultimately, that trait defines Kevin Garnett; not necessarily the screening, but the ability to transpose his best qualities into his teammates. It's what's helped him stay relevant, even at age 38.

In 10, 20, 30 years, we'll remember the MVP-caliber seasons in Minnesota or the ring in Boston. We'll recall the dynamic with Doc Rivers, Pierce, Allen and Rondo. We probably won't think twice about Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Net. For the present, though, it's always exciting to see an all-time great learn to contribute differently with a diminished skill set.

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Nov. 24 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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