Wolves fans deal with Kevin Garnett's possible departure.
As a medical student, I'm well versed in "The Five Stages of Grief". It's an important concept to understand when you're dealing with people who are coping with extremely difficult circumstances on a daily basis. And while the current circumstances that Timberwolves fans are facing are nowhere near as serious as cancer or some other debilitating illness, we are still struggling to come to grips with the fact we may be losing someone we love very soon.
With every mounting loss, it becomes increasingly likely that Kevin Garnett will walk into Glen Taylor office and ask for a trade. And after each blown lead or 20-point meltdown, Wolves fans are reminded that the day we've dreaded for song long may be right around the corner. Unless this Timberwolves team receives a heart transplant, KG may be good as gone. Faced with such a ominous possibility, it's only natural for us to begin to brace ourselves for the dream-shattering news. It's the body's natural defense against the pain. And so one by one, we enter into the five stages...
For me, it was Saturday's loss to Orlando. Coming off three straight losses on the road, the Timberwolves desperately needed a win, or at worst a strong showing. You would think that playing at home against a beatable opponent would be the perfect setting for the players to rise to the occasion an temporarily silence their doubters. What we witnessed, however, couldn't be any further opposite. Selfish, careless, disinterested - take your pick; they all describe the Wolves play on Saturday night. And to a fanbase desperately depending on this team to save the franchise, it was a total slap in the face. With my cheek red and stinging I began to deal with the seemingly inevitable departure of Kevin Garnett.
Denial: It's likely that I entered this stage of grief long before Saturday evening. Ever since the trade-deadline whispers began to circulate last winter, I've been denying the fact that Kevin Garnett would ever leave Minnesota. There was too much history, too much loyalty, too many things still left undone. To take of his Timberwolves jersey and replace it with another would be admitting failure. It would make him a loser. And Kevin Garnett would ever allow anyone to call him a loser. It simply couldn't happen.
Anger: There has been a lot of anger built up within the Timberwolves nation the past few years. Whether directed at Kevin McHale, Glen Taylor, Latrell Sprewell, Troy Hudson, Marko Jaric, or the organization in general, this underlying hostility has been the undertone of nearly all Timberwolves discussion for quite some time. On Saturday night, it officially hit a boiling point. There was too much on the line, too many emotions involved and when our beloved Timberwolves came out an looked like the just didn't care, it set us off. It certainly set me off. I don't think I've ever been so mad at a team.
Bargaining: By Sunday night, I had actually begun to think about what the Wolves would need in a trade for Garnett. Chicago's the obvious frontrunner. With their first rounder, our pick, and the Knicks pick, the Wolves would have a ton to work with in this year's deep draft, and a solid 40% shot of landing Greg Oden. In addition to receiving some of their young talent in return, the T-Wolves could also unload a bad contract or two, relieving the financial burden that Troy Hudson, Marko Jaric, or Mark Blount will have on this team for years to come. Maybe there would be a silver lining to this cloudy monstrosity after all.
Mourning: By Monday, my thoughts of Oden and O.J. had faded away, and all that remained was the giant vacuum that would left in Garnett's place. Think about him wearing another team's jersey. Think about him running out to center court to a standing ovation from another group of fans. Think about him leading them to playoff victories while, miles away, the Target Center sits an empty hole. Think about that, and then imagine the numb feeling you would get from watching another franchise, another team, another fanbase experiencing our moment: Kevin Garnett raising the Larry O'Brien trophy into the air towards a group of people who never suffered through seven first-round exits, never shed a tear for Malik, and at one time, booed him. Think about those things and tell me it doesn't make you sick to your stomach.
Acceptance: Judging by the speed at which I shuffled through the previous four stages, you would think I would have already entered into the acceptance phase. But I haven't. And I'm certain that I never will. Because no matter how bad things get in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett leaving will never be acceptable.
When times were rough, when Steph left, when Malik died, when Joe Smith cheated, when Brandon went down, when Chauncey bolted, when we notched first-round exit one through seven, when we lost the Western Conference Finals, when Latrell's family went hungry, when Flip was fired, when Sam was swapped for negative 80 cents on the dollar, when Wally was shipped out at the same price, and even now when things looked the bleakest, the fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the real ones anway, have never, not even for a second, turned their backs and walked away from Kevin Garnett. So how could anyone consider Garnett doing anything less than returning that favor to be acceptable?
It's been twelve years. And while there's no arguing that he's earned every penny, the fact remains that every NBA paycheck which Kevin Garnett's cashed has ultimately come from the fans. And while no formal contract was ever signed, we fans have bought those season tickets, number 21 jerseys, and handed over our hearts with the expectation that KG would see us through to the end. With some other player, with some other level of character, we might not have sold ourselves out like that. We would have never had the trust to give everything we had with no promise of a return. But we trusted Kevin. And betraying that trust will never be acceptable.
You can argue that after great years, Kevin Garnett doesn't owe the fans of Minnesota a thing. But I beg to differ. Though our roles and been different, and there's been plenty of give-and-take along the way, the fact remains that we set out together with the goal of a title all those years ago. It's a goal that still hasn't been accomplished. It's a goal that looks increasingly like it may never be accomplished. But that's not the point. We started this together and for anyone to back out before that's said and done, is once again, unacceptable.
You can talk all you want about Kevin Garnett deserving a championship. You can talk about his need to define his career. You can talk all you want, because that's all it is - talk. If and when Kevin Garnett wins an Larry O'Brien trophy, it will be, at best, the second greatest award he's ever received. That distinction goes to the J. Walker Kennedy Citizenship award he received a few days ago. Because when you compare a piece of metal you won from putting a ball through a hoop to the gratitude of families whose lives you've changed forever, that championship trophy no longer shines so bright.
You can measure the value of a man by the win/loss column and the weight of the metal on his shelf. Of you can go by the amount of lives he's touched. If Kevin Garnett walks into Glen Taylor's office looking for that trade, you'll know which choice he made. And though by staying with the Timberwolves, he may never get that trophy, he will have sent a message loud and clear about what he stands for: Loyalty, Dedication, Courage, and the Determination to stay the course no matter how difficult it may be. By staying with the Timberwolves Kevin Garnett will go from being a man, to an idea. And ideas never die.
Kevin Garnett may never get his title in Minnesota. But if he does stay, I can assure you of one thing. When he steps out onto the court to receive his final ovation, he won't need to be holding a trophy in the air. He'll be surrounded by thousands of his trophies with tears in their eyes, expressing their heartfelt gratitude.
It's the only ending that's acceptable.