The most-interesting aspect in the return of Kevin Garnett is to watch the old warrior sliding through the arena lights past Andrew Wiggins, potentially the long-term cure for what has been a sick franchise.
There has been only one truly great player in the 26 years of the Timberwolves, and that was Garnett from when he arrived as a wired-up 19-year-old in 1995 to his departure as a disillusioned 31-year-old in a trade with Boston in the summer of 2007.
Stephon Marbury had a chance to be great, to be Stockton to Garnett’s Malone, but he heard odd voices in that noggin of his and was traded at his insistence only 18 games into the abbreviated, lockout schedule of 1999, his third season.
Kevin Love was tremendous in his way, with points and rebounds and eventually shooting range, but he was never a defender, and never one to make witnesses gasp with an athletic play.
That was it in the Timberwolves’ first quarter-century of existence: one superstar in Garnett, and then a few rungs below that, Love and Marbury.
I hate the Mount Rushmore gimmick that our friends at ESPN and other outlets break out when sports news is slow and they want to create a nonsensical argument.
That’s one good thing about the Wolves’ star-crossed history: Nobody ever argues about the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
This is a franchise with a Washington Monument – long and majestic, in the form of first Da Kid, and then as the Big Ticket, and eventually, simply, KG.
He has returned late in Season One of the Wolves’ new quarter-century, and it created enough curiosity to bring back ticket buyers who had long ago lost interest in Minnesota’s sad, chaotic NBA franchise.
And in getting the public to return to Target Center, to take a look at the telecasts, undoubtedly Garnett has made more people aware of this:
There’s a strong likelihood that the Wolves at last have found their next Garnett in Andrew Wiggins.
It will not be exactly the same, since Garnett reached 7-foot-1 (or “6 foot-13,’’ as he proclaimed), and no player of that height has moved as effortlessly to all corners of a basketball court as did KG in his lengthy, fabulous prime.
Wiggins might have a few centimeters in him to reach 6-foot-9.
For all the spotlight that was on Garnett when he came back as a Wolf last Wednesday vs. Washington, what stood out for me was a couple of amazing plays made around the basket in the second half by Wiggins that caused this reaction:
“We haven’t seen a player on the home team who could make plays like that on a regular basis since KG was 28.’’
The Timberwolves needed to bring back Garnett to get customers inside Target Center. They are going to need Wiggins to become a replica of Garnett to first get back to the playoffs (as they were with KG from 1997 through 2003), and then to repeat the singular playoff run of 2004.
Yes, singular … one playoff run in 26 years. Amazing. Horrendous.
What will occur to provide some positive feedback for another lost season is this: Wiggins is going to be voted as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.
There are 125 voters, so it won’t be unanimous, but Wiggins has lapped the field of rookies. He has played in all 59 games, and his basics are 35 minutes, 15.8 points and a commitment to defense.
Wiggins will be the second player wearing the uniform of a team in Minneapolis to be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. The first was Elgin Baylor in 1959. Elgin played a full schedule of 70 games for the Lakers, averaging 41 minutes and 24.9 points.
Baylor had taken a winding path to Seattle University and was 24 when he debuted for the Lakers in 1958.
Wiggins was 19 years, 8 months when he debuted for the Wolves last Oct. 29. That made him 2 ½ months older than was Garnett when he played his first game on Nov. 3, 1995.
Kevin was out of high school and he was broken in more slowly. He played in 80 of 82 games, averaging 29 minutes and 10.4 points.
There were only first-place votes for Rookie of the Year in 1996 and Garnett received one of 113, making him the sixth player on the final list. Damon Stoudamire (76 votes) was a runaway winner, followed by 31-year-old Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis (17), Joe Smith (15), Michael Finley (2) and Jerry Stackhouse (2).
Joe Smith was the No. 1 overall pick for Golden State before that season. You might recall that he later came to the Wolves and … ah, never mind.