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jayC
02-08-2003, 02:49 PM
Da Kid has taken criticism like a man

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By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com


My favorite player in the L doesn't believe we're going to put him on ESPN in three weeks.

"Let the Lakers get a little hot," Kevin Garnett says, "and y'all are gonna forget all about us."

Not true. Got too much love for Da Kid to ever diss him like that, which is why I came "all the way up to the North Pole," as he put it, to see how he was doing. His Wolves are hurting, with Joe Smith and Rod Strickland the latest to pull up with injuries, but Garnett is putting Minnesota on his back again and trying to take them somewhere.

Somewhere in May, not April.


In arctic Minnesota, Kevin Garnett gets more than his share of heat for the Wolves' failures.
Ah, the playoffs. This is where many of us left KG, with the Wolves going out in the first round for the sixth straight season. With, for the first time, Garnett getting criticism publicly for his postseason play from the likes of Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley. For years, no one begrudged him the $126 million he got from owner Glen Taylor, even though it made improving the team nearly impossible, and ultimately led to the departure of Stephon Marbury to different, greener pastures. And then, last spring, as the Wolves lost to Dallas, Garnett was suddenly held responsible.

"I was hurt," Garnett says now. "I was more hurt, 'cause when Magic came at me ... I know Maj personally, so it wasn't like he was coming at me, you know what I mean? I looked at it from the standpoint that he's trying to help me a little bit, trying to get me some words of wisdom, over the tube. But at the same time criticism is criticism, and you can either ignore it or you can take it."

He took it. "But what bothered me about it," he continued, "was that Mac (general manager Kevin McHale) or nobody from my side never came out and tried to bag it up or defend me. So it just showed me you have to take care of yourself. And the summertime really opened my eyes to a lot of, I don't know, a lot of true colors that when things go bad ... and people will start to point fingers, and we all have to take some kind of responsibility and pointing the finger at yourself, and looking in the mirror, and I did that."

The summer didn't get any better. When a script for KG's new shoe commercial was made public, it appeared that Garnett was dogging some of his teammates for their own playoff performance. He's always denied that that was the case, that the spot was a kind of cinema verité. But again, he didn't get what he felt was a proper defense from the Wolves.

"As the summer went and as I did some of the promotion stuff, it got totally, totally, out of hand and bizarre," he said. "That's not even me. So I did the things I had to do to prepare myself for the season, and I just focused on Kevin. Before that I was trying to worry about this and worry about that, and that situation has helped me to open my eyes and be like, take care of you. Sam Mitchell (his former teammate and close friend) always gave me some advice, like, 'Hey, you can't help anybody else until you help yourself,' and I'd be like, 'No, no, no ... I can give a little bit here, I can give a little bit there.' But what he really meant was the loyalty that you have in others (is) not going to be the same as they have for you. And it took me a while to understand that, but I understand that now."

But was any of the criticism valid?

"There's two ways you can look at it, from a management standpoint and (the) fans' standpoint," Garnett said. "Everybody's heated 'cause we're (not) coming out of the first round and we're getting beat again ... but we're getting beat (by) Dallas, we're getting beat (by) Portland (in 2001), at the time who was rolling, we're getting beat (by) San Antonio, who that year (1999) won it ... so we're getting beat by good teams. It's not like we have a consistent team that's been here seven, eight years, and now we're competing. It's been a different team every year, and I've been fortunate to be here for the eight years and seen different changes and the trends, the transformations and been through the whole transition. I've seen the little changes in everybody here ...

"So my take, was it valid? I'll always have some responsibility. Did I do everything I could have done? Did I give every ounce that I have? I'm gonna question myself even though those answers are real definite, and real obvious. If you don't look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what could have I done to do, to win the game, then you're really cheating yourself and your teammates. I (just) think management needs to take a little more responsibility, you know what I mean? 'Cause this is, I don't pick and choose who's here and who's gone. And I don't make the team. They don't really talk to me about changes and stuff like that, so that's valid and I can take that. But to be ticked off at me or my teammates for the team you put together? ... But again, those are things I can't control. So I just deal with reality and go play."

So what will happen when Garnett's contract expires in two years? The locals insist a contract extension has been on the table for months. "Don't believe everything you hear," Garnett says, laughing. "Please don't."

So the Wolves haven't made an offer?

"We don't talk," Garnett said. "When both sides decide that, let's focus on the season, focus on winning, during the offseason, then we can address these issues."

We'll leave Minneapolis to live with that uncertainty in its gullet for the next 24 months. In the meantime, Garnett is on his way to another All-Star appearance. This weekend will be different, though. For the first time in five years, KG and Steph will be on the same squad. Starbury doesn't want to talk about Garnett or his years in Minnesota, not after saying last month that his now-Suns teammate, Amare Stoudemire, was much better than Garnett was at a similar age. KG's response was that Marbury was obsessing about him. "I'm on his mind like a girl," Garnett said then.

It was an inglorious reminder that the relationship between Garnett and Marbury, once the tightest of tight, has been on the skids ever since Marbury made it clear he'd rather be closer to home, near family and friends, than stay in the Midwest and try to win a title.

I know we've been yapping in the papers ... and in the public and in the media, but (Marbury) and I, we have a history, and that's something you can't ever take. Whether we decide to build off that or just totally let it evaporate, that's on us. But it doesn't matter. We're teammates this weekend.
Kevin Garnett

"It ain't as complex as it seems," Garnett says of his relationship with Marbury these days. "I know we've been yapping in the papers ... and in the public and in the media, but him and I, we have a history, and that's something you can't ever take. Whether we decide to build off that or just totally let it evaporate, that's on us. But it doesn't matter. We're teammates this weekend."

Garnett says "what (the relationship) has evolved to today is kinda sad," and that he would be really hurt if something ever happened to Steph before they could squash things. And yet, Garnett can't remember the last time he spoke to Marbury.

"Last time I talked to Steph? Wow, it's been a minute, it's been a minute, it's been a while," he said. "Last time I had some real numbers on him, it's been a while. I talk to his cousin Sebastian (Telfair, the high school prodigy guard from New York) probably more than I talk to him. I talk to him more than I talk to any of the Marburys. But I'll have my chance this weekend ... I guess we never talked about it or never communicated in any kind of way, so it's like it's almost like something that's broke. You know when you get a hole in your windshield, if you don't fix it, it just gets bigger and bigger and before you know it, your whole windshield is shattered. So luckily, we have this weekend and we can pass some of this stuff up, man."

Here's hoping they get a chance. It's time for everybody to move on. People grow and change. Don't hate on Steph because he wanted to be home and get paid. Don't hate on KG because he was hurt then when Marbury left, and because he's hurt now by the criticism he's been getting. And don't hate on my favorite player in the L if he finally decides, after a decade of unquestionable loyalty to his franchise, that he either has to get some real help, or he has to bounce.

"When the time comes, I will make a decision based on me. And I want to be here more than anybody," Da Man says. "But at the same time, you have to put me in a position where I'm successful."

David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Maybe a not so fast that KG is a Timberwolve for life. Well you can fill in the blanks.