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Looking at the angles of a Kevin Garnett trade

Kevin Garnett can still play the game of basketball. So what's really driving fan fury over the possibility of bringing him home?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This blog has never covered Kevin Garnett.

Nate, along with Britt Robson and Wyn Douglas, started this place in 2007, when KG was traded to the Boston Celtics. I did not join until 2008. Tim Allen and I did not become editors until 2009.

So no one here has even come close to a Kevin Garnett the Timberwolf experience. I've always felt a touch of low key, passive resentment towards our sister site, CelticsBlog, for getting to be the ones to introduce Garnett to the SB Nation community. We had him first. We deserve a share of his playing career. For that reason alone, my inner 12 year old would be excited to see him return.

But there are mixed feeling about this possibility. By the Twitter and Facebook shares and comments on the report thread, this is a great idea that would get Minnesota to kinda-sorta care about the Wolves again. By the comments in that same thread, this is the stupidest idea the Wolves have ever had ever in the history of ever. I get that. On one side, you have those who adore Kevin Garnett and want the poetic justice of seeing him end his career on a home team that's had nothing to cheer for in over a decade. On the other side, you have those who are sick of losing and increasingly exasperated by a front office that already has a questionable track record of asset management over that same decade.

The NBA is governed by a salary cap. Good players cost a share of that cap. Thad is a good player. And while his contract figure does give you an initial moment's pause, the truth is, in a vacuum, he's not overpaid by market value. At roughly $9.5 million/year, Thad falls in the same range as Luol Deng, Tiago Splitter and Jeff Green. Deng is solid as granite, but I think it's hard to argue any of those guys is significantly more (or less) valuable than Thad is. Of all the players in that $8-10 million range, I'd say the only one who's worlds above Thad is Paul Millsap, and with every Hawks more a case of Millsap being absurdly underpaid. Thad Young can play basketball.

But I would also argue that Garnett, even at 38 year's old, is better than he's being given credit for. I've seen the word "unwatchable" thrown around a lot. I don't agree with that. As physically limited as he is, KG can still play the game.

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% 3pt% FT%
Thad Young 14.3 5.1 2.8 1.8 0.4 1.6 .451 .292 .682
Kevin Garnett 6.8 6.8 1.6 1.0 0.3 1.1 .455 --- .829

TS% Reb% Ast% Stl% Blk% Usage PER WS/48 WP/48
Thad Young .491 8.8 14.4 2.7 0.8 21.0 14.9 .049 .015
Kevin Garnett .486 18.9 13.4 2.5 1.2 18.2 14.9 .091 .158

And transplanted onto the Wolves roster...

Kevin Garnett
PER 14.9 6th
TS% .486 10th
Reb% 18.9 2nd
Ast% 13.4 4th
Pts over Par 1.8 2nd
WS/48 .091 4th
WP/48 .158 2nd

Yes, Garnett is limited to about 20 minutes per game. But for those 20 minutes, he's still an effective player. Is "unwatchable" an aesthetic thing? That's never what this place has been about.

What stands out here, of course, is the rebounding. The Wolves are 26th in total rebounding, including dead last in defensive rebounding, and Thad Young is honestly a big part of that. As an undersized power forward, Thad simply isn't holding his own on the glass. While he's been better since Pekovic returned (6.3 per game, which goes to Eric's point about how Pek occupying space helps his teammates board), the fact remains that he's averaging 1.7 fewer rebounds a game than 38 year old Garnett, even though he's averaging 13 more minutes.

In addition to this, the Wolves are a stupendously poor defensive team in general: 29th in opponent scoring allowed, and 30th...dead last opponent FG% allowed. This, of course, isn't directly on Thad, but it is most definitely an area Garnett can help with more than Young has.

NBA defense can be most accurately described as five people trying to act as one mind, and since human beings can't actually mind-meld, NBA players have to approximate it through constant communication. As someone who's at a lot of Wolves games, I can tell you there is very little talking happening with this squad. As someone who was at a lot of Kevin Garnett-era Wolves games, I can also tell you he never stops talking.

Ricky Rubio is the only player the Wolves have who attempts to direct his teammates on the defensive end. Unfortunately he is also the guy who sees the least amount of the floor defensively. Everyone is behind him. The keystone to a great defensive team is a big man who understands defense and talks to his teammates. Even if he's not a great defender himself. Because those guys have everyone in front of them. Nothing is more emblematic of awesome defense than how much Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson yapped on the defensive end together.

Garnett is infamously a yapper, and a perfectionist on defense. We saw his true bent as a player during his first year with the Celtics, when he gladly sacrificed touches on offense to focus on being the team's defensive linchpin. And in the years leading up to his departure for Boston, he became increasingly agitated by his teammates' lack of defensive fundamentals; I'll never forget attending the game where he shuffled 15 feet out of position to literally grab the back of Randy Foye's jersey and drag him to the right spot on the floor. And that wasn't an isolated case for him (or Foye either....)

On top of that, Garnett is simply an insanely intense competitor and guaranteed Hall of Fame player. He's seen it all at this point, and his career personifies basketball greatness. Flip mentioned before the All Star break that his biggest hope for Wiggins, LaVine, Bazz and Dieng was for them to go to New York and simply take in how great players go about being great. It's an easy thing to scoff at, but it shouldn't be dismissed. Every superstar has followed in the footsteps of the superstars before him; LeBron studied Kobe. Kobe studied Michael. Michael studied Magic. Humans are mimic primates. W become something by copying someone else who already is "it" until we're it ourselves, and the more time we spend around that someone, the easier it is to do. Garnett could teach the Baby Wolves a Jedi Archive's worth of information about the level of work, intensity, and cerebralness it takes to make it in the NBA. Which, not incidentally, happens to be something he rather likes to do.

"There are so many things that I see that I can provide to younger players. I gravitate to the guys that really, really work hard. I'm able to show them things. Help their games. To see the progress is huge."

There's also the marketing aspect of this, in which Garnett goes back on the murals and game brochures and sells a bunch of tickets. That doesn't mean much to us here. But the Timberwolves are a business as much as a basketball team, and it matters to their business side. Even if we don't find that important to our particular brand of fandom, we should at least respect that.

So no, I do not agree that a Thad Young for Kevin Garnett trade would be pointless, or make for unwatchable basketball. Garnett can still play, and his intangibles far outclass anyone on the Wolves' current roster.

What this does raise is a somewhat concerning question about the power forward spot, and a much broader question about the Wolves' methodology in general.

To the point about the 4-spot, yes, I share the trepidation. I feel confident in saying Flip views Adreian Payne as the answer here. That seems like a gamble, at best. He's an unknown. And since Bennett hasn't established himself, and the Wolves basically burned two first rounders on him and Thad, the options for reset if things don't work out are limited to say the least.

I don't think Thad rebounds or shoots the three well enough to be a real solution as a stretch-4. If you think things there can work, then that obviously changes your view on this. Either way, however, the Wolves have basically no cap space and no draft picks to bring in an additional power forward, so if the choice boils down to Thad Young or hoping Payne can be as good as Thad Young, then finding a way to keep Thad for another four years is a pretty good option. Which, of course, you can't do if you trade him away.

A lot of this will be shaded by your personal take on what Thad's future with the team could be. I don't think there's much there. But I get that others do, and I understand that side of it. It's not something I'm going to argue about.

The second part of all this, which I believe is the real heart of the divisive reaction, is yet another grim look at the Wolves' decision-making process. In this case, what we call "opportunity cost". What are the Wolves *not* pursuing to pursue this, and what does that say about their method of assessing players like Payne that they believe he's the answer?

If Thad's not the answer at power forward, but he is indeed tradeable, why not trade him for someone who could be? Why not Mizra Teletovic? Why not Kenneth Faried, or John Henson, or Jason Thompson, or Terrence Jones? Why not trade for then sign then waive Josh Smith, or pick up a first rounder to use on Montrezl Harrell? It's, as always, a question of asset management. As with any deal the Wolves make, this is being viewed through the lens of decades of mostly futility, built on the back of bad decision making, which has its roots not in the chances the Wolves did take so much as the choices they didn't make. It's a mentality that goes back to McHale, who would famously say players like Tracy McGrady or Gary Payton would never play for the Wolves without even trying for them.

I like Thad Young. He's productive, he's professional, and he's great in the locker room. And I also like Kevin Garnett. He's intense. He can still play. He brings experience and defensive acumen to the table that Thad does not. I understand there are those that believe Thad is the long term answer at power forward (or at least is the best option available), but I don't think the debate about that is the real debate. That's a symptom, not the cause.

I get that there are lines in this battle, and people are picking sides. But am I conflicted about making this deal? Absolutely not. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn't, it doesn't. I'll be happy either way and I think you should be too. Because even if you don't like the trade for Kevin Garnett, Kevin Garnett is not why you don't like it. The real issue is an old one that's far more entrenched than a single trade.