MINNEAPOLIS - He hadn't even suited up or taken in the glorified portraits that have sprung up in murals all over the Target Center, yet Kevin Garnett already was commanding respect from the moment the youthful Timberwolves got an up-close gander at him.
Even before the awe wore off.
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"It was like three little kids looking at Santa Claus coming down the chimney," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "Their eyes were wide open and they were just kind of looking in disbelief. He was just telling them about his experience of 20 years of being in the league."
In a sense, that's precisely why Saunders, also the president of basketball operations and a part-owner of the team, pulled the trigger on the Feb. 19 deal to send Thaddeus Young to the Nets. Saunders wanted to bring Garnett back to his roots with hopes of re-injecting some life into the franchise he played for from 1995-2007.
At this stage in his career, the 38-year-old veteran forward doesn't have much left physically. He sat out his fifth straight game Monday night because of a sore knee. But Garnett's wealth of knowledge essentially makes him like an assistant coach, something Saunders thought would be valuable for a team that began the season tied for the fourth-youngest roster in the NBA at 24.9 years of age.
"When you make a trade, everybody has different dynamics of what they are looking for," Saunders said, "and we were looking for someone we thought could still play some but also could give great leadership . . .
"To have somebody in the locker room that's resonating the message that coaches are sending, you just don't find those types of things. So Kevin's able to do that."
"I like Thad. I loved him as a player, how he played for us. There was a unknown with him on what was going to happen [with his contract], so we were just in a situation where we thought it was going to be a situation that would benefit both people."
Even though Garnett has played in only five of 13 possible games, the franchise's all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, games and minutes is going to close out his career where he's appreciated most.
"I told him this before," Saunders said. "I said, 'Kevin, no matter what, when people look at you, they will remember your championship in Boston. But you are one of the other guys in Boston. Here you are the guy.' And I just thought it was important for him that he come back here."