Kevin Garnett leaves a much different NBA than the one he entered 21 years ago. In the words of Cutty from ‘The Wire’, “The game done changed”, and Garnett, more than anyone in his storied generation, is a major reason why.
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were more than formidable foils, but before their ascension, it was a lanky, spring-loaded Garnett who caught everyone’s attention.
Though he wasn’t the first player to make the jump straight from high school to the pros, Garnett reopened that barrier 20 years after it had last been breached.
His decision to forego college paved the way for countless others to follow, including Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal the following year, along with Tracy McGrady in 1997, Kwame Brown (the first high-schooler selected No1 overall) in 2001, Amar’e Stoudemire in 2002, LeBron James in 2003 and Dwight Howard in 2004.
Though the NBA now has an age limit of 19 which was put in place in 2006, the league still contains high school draft picks and has seen others circumvent college for various pro avenues.
But who knows how many of those players would have followed Garnett’s path if he hadn’t been an instant success.
What made Garnett so special at such a young age his combination of guard-like skills with 7-foot height and other-worldly athleticism. It was an unconventional, futuristic mix that made him one of the most fun players to watch in the league, even as a rookie, and changed our thinking of what a big man could be.
We’re now in a modern NBA in which frontcourt players like Garnett are no longer unicorns, but the prototype. He was never a 3-point shooter – it’s not inconceivable he could have succeeded as one, especially if his career aligned with the game’s transformation in style – but he could do everything else on the court and do it at an eye-popping level.
Those abilities led to early All-Star production, which then resulted in a rich six year, $126 million contract from Minnesota in 1998 – the largest in NBA history at the time – that caused tension among owners and factored into the 1998-99 lockout.
When basketball resumed, a new cap on individual player salaries was in place to protect against another situation like Garnett’s.
And of course, Garnett’s willingness to form a Big Three in Boston has had massive ripple effects, from LeBron James’ decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, to Kevin Durant’s choice to form a super team on the West Coast. The situations are far from consistent, but more than anything it’s the unselfishness and success Garnett exuded and enjoyed that has made teaming-up more fashionable.
Ironically, however, it’s the qualities Garnett is most known for – his fire, intensity and competitiveness – that ensure we’ll never see someone like him again.
Garnett changed the landscape wherever he went, but he was the same chest-pounding, trash-talking madman until the end.
The key things we learned from a frenetic weekend of action.
The Philadelphia Eagles have made an impressive start to the season - can they maintain their form? That's the question.
Meanwhile, Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian did something on the field not even Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler could manage last season.
What did you make of the game play?
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1) As impressive as Carson Wentz was in the first two games, it was fair to reserve judgement on the rookie and Philadelphia as a whole until they played an actual contender. Well, after blowing out one of the AFC’s best teams, Pittsburgh, 34-3, we can now say with confidence that Wentz and the Eagles defence is a combo that will be hard to beat.
2) Of all the fantastic defensive efforts in Week 3, the Vikings should be near the top of the list for what they did to reigning MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers, which included eight sacks, three turnovers and a safety. It was a strong encore to last week’s outing when they restricted Aaron Rogers. Despite their injuries, the defence still makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Third down pressures put the heat on Carolina's offense.
3) The Broncos’ ceiling knows no bounds if their quarterback is more than just adequate and can make plays. That’s what Trevor Siemian proved he can do when he picked apart Cincinnati with 312 yards and four touchdowns for a 132.1 passer rating. For comparison, Denver didn’t get a passer rating that high from either Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler last season.
4) Coming off arguably the best game of his career, Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t have played any worse in the loss to Kansas City. The Jets quarterback threw six interceptions, including two in the end zone, to remind everyone that for as good as he can be any given week, he’s a journeyman at the end of the day with a limited upside. This, however, was a new low.
Fitz: "We have to come together and not drift apart from a loss like that...And move onto the next one." pic.twitter.com/H8QUoACUyP
5) A staple of Arizona’s offence and namely head coach Bruce Arians’ attack is to throw downfield and aim for big plays. The Cardinals were able to do that last year, with Carson Palmer leading the league with 8.70 yards per attempts, but so far this season it’s been a struggle as Palmer ranks 17th in the category at 7.37. Opposing defences know to focus on it.
Phil Kessel just couldn’t resist. Sat at home when he should have been on the ice representing the United States at the World Cup of Hockey, the time was right for a well crafted tweet of the ironic variety.
The Stanley Cup-winning forward was a colossus for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, producing the kind of displays the woeful US team were crying out for in Canada over the past few days.
His omission from the squad, however, was baffling. Three defeats from three were enough for the Americans to head back over the border in embarrassment, tails firmly between legs. The 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic – dubbed the weakest team on show – put the sorry seal on the worst tournament display from a US team since the infamous early exit from the 1998 Olympics.
“Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog,” Kessel tweeted after the second match defeat to Canada. “Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
The stats back up Kessel’s annoyance, even if others were less than impressed.
“I understand there’s hard feelings if you weren’t picked for the team or whatever, but the comments are, I think, as a team guy and as a guy that stands by my team-mates win, lose or draw, it’s a little distasteful,” moaned Boston Bruins center David Backes.
If 10 goals in the play-offs weren’t enough, surely 26 strikes and 33 assists during the regular season should have done the trick. But no. In their eternal wisdom, coach John Tortorella and his cohorts thought they’d blow Canada out of the water with good old fashioned muscle. Lots of grit, blood, sweat and tears.
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
The overflowing of skill and craft which the Canadians had in abundance were, however, conspicuous in their absence when it came to the Americans.
Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, Kyle Okposo of Buffalo and Carolina’s Justin Faulk also had reason to be slightly miffed as they watched the dynamic hosts emphatically prove their class during the 4-2 win over the US.
Yet defeat against Canada – the best team in the tournament – won’t loom large on Tortorella’s epitaph. It was the woeful displays against Team Europe and the Czechs which rightly had alarm bells ringing.
Yes, decent players were missing. Yet this wasn’t a squad of bluffers. There were 10, 20 goal NHL stars available, including three of the league’s eight top scorers. Skill, speed and agility do the trick domestically so why rip up the script on the international stage, even if this tournament came at a time when most are gearing up for the new campaign?
Rustiness is unavoidable, though watching Canada and Russia clash in Toronto in front of a pumped up home crowd on Saturday night, any accusations of Sidney Crosby being off the pace and taking his eyes off the prize were way off target. He was on fire, scoring the opener and providing two assists as the Russians, whose star man Alex Ovechkin was anonymous, were dispatched 5-3 to set-up the best of three final against either Sweden or Team Europe – a collection of the best of the rest on that continent.
Crosby provided the kind of world class killer instinct the US so sorely missed.
“We’re not as deep as Canada skill-wise,” Tortorella said. “Not sure USA Hockey will like me saying that, but it’s the truth. It’s a situation where I still think, in our mind, we could not just skill our way through Canada.”
This was the first World Cup for 12 years and in the current sporting climate here, seeing the US totally flunk their lines hasn’t dominated the agenda. It was acute embarrassment from the hockey federation.
Team America rolled into town with the slogan ‘It’s Time’ supposedly adding purpose and focus to their campaign. Inspirational figures from the army were also called in to help create the kind of ruthless team dynamic aimed at blowing the Canadians away.
It didn’t work. Kessel, just like everyone else, couldn’t help but laugh.