When Kevin Garnett retired, most reasonable NBA heads figured he'd lay low until, oh, pretty much his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Instead, KG has spent the last 14 months as an omnipresent force around the game—mentoring stretchy bigs from coast to coast, hosting Area 21 as part of TNT's prime-time basketball coverage down in Atlanta...and dropping takes almost as frequently as he used to grab boards.
Garnett recently caught up with Bleacher Report—which, like Area 21 and Inside the NBA, is part of Turner Sports—to discuss the season so far (his Celtics included), the faces of the league (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and more), plus this week's looming showdown between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Parts of this conversation have been condensed.)
Bleacher Report: There's been a lot of talk lately of the one-and-done rule being altered. You were one of the first to jump from high school. Do you see the eligibility rules being changed again?
Kevin Garnett: No, I don't see the rule changing. And if I do see the rule changing, the rule is going to be changed not for the betterment of college [players]. I think they would try to get the kids to stay a little longer. I think kids leaving early out of high school hurts the college game. You can do it in tennis; you can do it any other sport, leave early, but basketball [is] the most impactful game, the most recognizable game—so I understand the control or the ability to try and control it. Players are going to find ways to get through it, loop[hole] it.
They said it was bad for business, but they're making money on all these young guys. No one's talking about that part of it. No one wants to speak about the—I don't want to call it bullying, but it is a bit of a monopoly when you set the structure up that you got to take a certain path.
I think they're going to try to strangle the overseas option for a lot of these kids and make it more boxed in, if you will, where you either got to go to J.C. or college or something or sit out. And I think these players are going to look at these options and these solutions, and they're going to take some of them. Some are going to go to college, which is always a good thing, but I think growing up and going overseas too—that's a whole other experience.
B/R: Are you happy about the young crop of big guys who are maturing into forces in the league?
KG: Embiid—against the Lakers—showed kind of an arsenal of moves I've seen probably only Karl-Anthony Towns have. ... I love where the big is going. I would like to see a lot more post-ups—but the game is beautiful. We had to sit back and watch the point guard position dominate for about five or six years. It's good to see some big stars push through.
B/R: What else goes through your head when you watch Embiid dominate?
KG: I had a chance to work with [Embiid] this summer. ... I've been wanting to start a mentorship that I can actually start impacting some of these younger guys and help them not just with basketball things, but off-court things and NBA-league things—life things—that we all have to deal with. I'm not trying to be someone's agent—not trying to be someone's anything—but when I watched him [against the Lakers last week], he looked like he was free. He looked like he was having a lot of fun. I saw him go into different ways of scoring.
It could have been the stage. It could have been Staples [Center]. It could have been the Lakers. But I can honestly say he's been getting better every game. The sky's the limit for Joel.
B/R: You've done a lot of work with Thon Maker, right?
KG: Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He's a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.
Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.
B/R: Did you envision this type of start from the Celtics?
KG: I thought Kyrie leaving Cleveland would definitely impact Cleveland as a team from a continuity and chemistry standpoint. I knew replacing him wasn't going to be an easy thing. I knew that The Great Northeast was going to gravitate to Kyrie coming there—but let's not forget what IT [Isaiah Thomas] brought, how he just put it on his back and showed so much will and resilience.
Brad Stevens has been on autopilot since IT stepped in Boston, and I think with Kyrie coming in there—taking that momentum and kind of owning it—it's just a testament to them and their team and the continuity in the division. I hope that they can just sustain it. Everybody knows that in this league, consistency is the hardest thing. Discipline is another hard thing, and those guys have been playing together and doing it as a team together with Kyrie leading the show. It's great, and if you're a Celtic, you love it, and you're smiling in the back of your mind because you know what it is.
B/R: LeBron told ESPN the new schedule—and how it's spaced-out—has helped the Cavs. How much do you think more days off would've benefitted you?
KG: I don't know, man. In the years of [former Commissioner] David Stern, you understand that you're not chasing anything you're doing. You're chasing history. I didn't want anything to be altered when I was being compared to some of the greats.
I took the game personal, man. I wanted to be the best, and I wanted to be hands-down the best, and I wanted you to say it. I wanted it to be understood. I wanted when I came into the room for everybody to know. Other players in the league thought the same way or at least felt like that when we competed: Kobe [Bryant], Shaq [O'Neal], Rasheed [Wallace], Chauncey [Billups]. When I played these guys, it was hell. Not to say that players these days don't take it personal, but it does seem to me to be a lot more relaxed. It seems to be a lot more friendships in the league, and that's just our league transcending and moving into another realm of what sports are going to be.
You can still take it personal. It's just different times. Me, myself? Rest is always good. I would've never bitched and complained about rest. But it's a new league, and I think we need to get off of what yesteryear was and start to adjust and adapt to what today is.
B/R: Russell Westbrook is the player most compared to you, in terms of intensity and passion. Have you guys ever talked—and found similarities in where that drive comes from?
KG: I talked to Russ a couple times about personal s--t—real recognize real—but I respect his talent. I respect his appetite. We have a similar background. We have a similar path, if you will. I played with guys like Steph [Marbury] when we were super best friends, and he left, and that left an immediate mark and impacted me in a certain way that I looked at teammates different after that. The ones that stuck—Malik [Sealy], Sam Mitchell, Joe Smith, Gary Trent, Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson—those guys became real friends with me after that because of that situation.
So I totally understood it when he was going through the KD saga and all that and how both of them moved on—and are starting to make interesting basketball when it comes to the West and have us all watching with open eyes.
B/R: Most people wouldn't have imagined a show from you as one of your retirement scenarios. What appealed to you about it?
KG: I'll be honest. It wasn't something I, in the beginning, looked at as an option or something that I wanted to do. I heard A-Rod say this: He wanted to be a baseball player and a CEO. I'm following the same lines as that. I always wanted to build something—something that was mine—and obviously, I wanted to become a basketball player, and that was my dream. So, after the game was over, I was looking to be more into business, and when it was brought to me, I was kind of shocked.
I'm not sitting up here saying that I had a bad relationship with the media or anything, but I could hear the whispers about me not doing certain things or I wasn't always the one to jump to an interview. So, I didn't know what the crossover would be. ... I've enjoyed it a lot, man—it's nothing short of eventful.
Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams.