USA TODAY Sports
For so long, Kevin Garnett was the cursed superstar forced to be his team's lone hero. At All-Star 2013, here he is again, alone at the top.
HOUSTON -- Kevin Garnett wanted to set one thing straight. He's not retiring. He's not thinking about retiring. He didn't have any hidden meaning and he wasn't speaking in code. When he said before he left for the All-Star Game in his cryptic KG way that we all don't know what he knows, we proved his point by taking that mysterious aside and running wild with it.
"No, no, no," Garnett said. "I'm just telling y'all that every year you make this is not something you take for granted. That's all I'm saying."
He was asked a half-dozen ways about those comments that this would be his last All-Star game and each time Garnett kept saying that it was all a big misunderstanding.
"Listen man, I took the question as if somebody was asking me about the next year and I had no insight to saying that I was going to be a definite All-Star," Garnett said. "It came out like I'm saying like this is my last, but I'm not an egotistical guy or none of that. I wasn't going to say, ‘Yeah I'm going to be an All-Star next year.' I'm more than grateful to be here. I wasn't going to make a comment that I felt like was out of hand to say that next year I would be this because next year no one knows. So that's where those comments came from."
OK, got it. In the land of KG one never knows exactly what to make of his comments. He spent a decent part of last year's playoff run dropping hints and making allusions, and there was even a running wager among some media folks about whether he was serious about stepping away from the game he's played professionally for half his life. As always, Garnett remains cloaked in his own little mystery.
"What I try to do is focus on the year and what we're going through versus things that aren't even here yet, nor do I have to entertain," Garnett said. "Each year I always assess myself as long as I'm able to give something to a team and be productive and hold myself to standards that I'm comfortable with; then and only then do I think about things like that. I'm two feet in. I'm totally committed and that's what it is."
You can quibble about whether others were more deserving to make the All-Star team this year, but Garnett doesn't need to make any apologies about his performance. His numbers have remained remarkably consistent on a per-minute basis and he's still the anchor of a defense that has ranked in the top two since January.
"His game is timeless," East coach Erik Spoelstra told me. "He doesn't seem to ever age. It's that competitive will that you feel during a game. There's only a handful of players where you feel their intensity during the course of a game and you do feel it. When you go through those battles and you can take a step back what you have is ultimate respect."
I asked Spoelstra about KG's defense and all the subtle ways he influences a game.
"It's the intensity number one, but that wouldn't be enough if he didn't have a first-class IQ," Spoelstra said. "He understands the game extremely well. Great communicator. If you were going to build a top defensive team and you wanted a frontline player to anchor it, he's the type of player. He's similar to a Ray Lewis type in terms of getting his team to play with the passion that he plays with."
The analogy is apt. Like Lewis he can work himself into a manic froth and like Lewis he demands accountability. Unlike Lewis, his leadership style is behind the scenes. What Garnett does is hold his teammates to a standard through his actions and his preparation. The first thing team insiders mention when discussing KG is that he changed the culture, which is one of those throwaway lines that would be cliché if it wasn't so obviously true.
The Celtics' methods are not always pretty and when they lose their way -- as they have been known to do from time to time -- the results have been ugly. It's not for nothing that one of Doc Rivers' greatest rants was when he complained about his team acting too cool.
The Celtics can't get away with cool, even less so now without Rajon Rondo. Without Rondo the Celtics have won eight of nine, which is less an indictment of the mercurial point guard than a realization that there are no shortcuts. The Celtics are sharing the ball, covering for each other on defense and playing their asses off. One wonders how well they'd be playing if they were doing all those things with Rondo in the lineup.
"When you lose guys, your strength is in your numbers and in each other," Garnett said. "We're playing hard, man. We're playing hard as crap. Night in and night out we're giving ourselves a chance to win every game and that's all I can ask."
It's somewhat fitting that Garnett appeared at his 15th All-Star Game by himself. For the first dozen years of his career, the only other All-Stars during his Minnesota years were Tom Gugliotta, Wally Szczerbiak and Sam Cassell.
Since joining the Celtics, Garnett has shown up to All-Star weekend with his green army in tow. But Paul Pierce, his aging brother in arms, isn't here. Rondo, his young aide de camp, is recovering from ACL surgery. Ray Allen is in Miami, soaking up the sun and the open looks behind the three-point arc that comes with the good life alongside LeBron James.
Truth be told Garnett would probably rather be anywhere but Houston. The peaceful shores of Malibu are his retreat, where the waves and the sand don't ask for his time and he can kick it with the close circle of people he trusts. But he does appreciate it.
He talked about his early days as an All-Star when he and Kobe Bryant developed a rapport that continues to this day. He talked about when he met Wilt Chamberlain in Cleveland and the game in Atlanta where he was surrounded by friends.
"As you get older you tend to cling on and appreciate small moments," he said. "When I was younger I didn't have responsibilities in life. I didn't have kids. I didn't have a lot of family."
He's different now, but he's still KG. He was the tragic superstar in those early days. Now he's the old man raging against the dying of the light and once again he's on his own. It will truly end one day and when it does the game will be a lot poorer and a whole lot less interesting.