Just over two years ago, Minnesota Timberwolves fans witnessed an all-time great turn back the clock against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Target Center.
The then-39-year-old Kevin Garnett, near what would be the end of his lengthy and highly-successful NBA career, made one more highlight in front of Wolves fans.
That highlight was the last true one from The Big Ticket, who went on to appear in just 15 more games that season.
He retired the following summer. That ended up being the final time we would see Garnett associated with the Wolves organization.
And while his reunion in a Wolves uniform appeared to mend the relationship between him and the team, there are many examples that show why they may have actually taken a step back following his second stint.
A vision that once involved Garnett’s hand in the organization going forward has now become muddled.
The vision of Flip Saunders
When Flip Saunders returned to Minnesota in 2013 to become the franchise’s President of Basketball Operations – and eventually the head coach for the second time – he carried a vision with him.
The first part of that vision was to gain assets and youth during a full rebuild. The second part was to obtain valuable veterans to mentor the youth.
Garnett, and his wisdom, was the focus of that vision.
“I knew he had a vision and what he wanted to do,” ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst said in a phone interview with Zone Coverage. “That was exactly the vision that he had.”
Saunders’ vision began to play out. He started by obtaining young talent in the summer, and later by bringing The Big Ticket back in a trade deadline deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
Along with bringing Garnett back, talks behind the scenes between KG and Saunders began soon after.
Garnett said he was interested in eventually buying the team when Taylor was ready to sell.
“Flip and KG would have been figureheads in the purchase,” Windhorst said. “That’s something that would carry the franchise within the community.”
But on Oct. 25, 2015, that plan came to a halt. At age 60, Saunders passed away after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“When Flip passed away, there was no advance warning. He collapsed one day and didn’t regain consciousness. It was a terrible circumstance,” Windhorst said. “That was a tragedy, because he had laid the groundwork for this team that is giving the Wolves a chance to be a relevant team for a decade into the future.”
The tragic loss of Saunders not only altered the vision of the franchise, but also the future of ownership of the Wolves – including the behind-the-scenes talks he had with Garnett and Taylor.
“When Glen was ready to sell the team, Flip and Glen had an understanding that Flip would have a chance to buy the team, but it wasn’t in writing,” Windhorst said. “I don’t know what Flip’s agreement was with KG. But when Flip passed, Glen moved on and moved on from KG.”
That added yet another chapter to the story of the rocky relationship between the Wolves and their best all-time player.
Glen Taylor vs. Kevin Garnett
One thing that is often forgotten when thinking about Garnett’s time in Minnesota was his willingness to sacrifice in order to make the team better.
Most notably, Garnett agreed to take a $12 million paycut following the 2003-04 season – the most successful season in Wolves history, when they reached the Western Conference Finals.
Garnett won his lone MVP Award that year.
“I assure you that was the only time in the history of the NBA that an MVP took a pay cut. And he did all of that in his prime,” Windhorst said. “He gave back tens of millions of dollars with the belief that it would help them win and they didn’t put a team around him.
“He didn’t only lose years, but lost money in Minnesota. If you’re KG, you have that past and you know that in your mind, you gave the Wolves maybe more years than you should have.”
Even after saying in 2010 with the Celtics that he might have been too loyal the first time around, Garnett put all of that baggage aside when he agreed to return in 2015. He wanted to finish his career where it all started in Minnesota.
And after his career, he wanted – and still wants – to join ownership of the Wolves. But there has been and continues to be one person standing in the way of that happening: Taylor.
A few weeks ago, the now-KG Area 21 TV show host said in an interview with Awful Announcing that he still has interest in being a part of an NBA ownership group. But he said he would never partner with Taylor, adding he would love to help in buying Taylor out.
“I’m sure he felt, the years he gave, he helped put the roots down in Minnesota and he felt that it was worth the consideration (to join ownership),” Windhorst said. “I think the thought was if he comes back and gets an ownership piece less than value, that they are even. Then Glen went and sold a piece of the team right after KG retired. We can only assume that Glen didn’t feel like giving him the same consideration Flip wanted to.
“It’s complicated because Glen is not out of line by saying I’m not giving discounted pieces of my franchise.”
The saga that lies between Taylor and Garnett is nothing new. But with the past between the two sides, this was only adding to it.
“I understand KG’s position, you could say that he has been burned twice at this point,” Windhorst said. “This is a little more personal for KG.”
What lies ahead for Garnett and the Wolves
Garnett and the Wolves have quite the history.
Whether either side has regrets or not, he will forever be viewed by many as the player to make the greatest impact rocking a Wolves jersey.
But as far as repairing the rocky relationship – that has become more complicated in the last few years – that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Especially for the Garnett camp, and especially while Taylor owns the team.
In the wake of players such as Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant having their numbers retired, many Wolves fans wonder when they see Garnett’s name up in the rafters at Target Center.
Over the past year, although there have been reports of Minnesota offering the idea of a jersey retirement to Garnett, there have been no advanced or serious talks in that happening anytime soon.
There are plenty of people within the organization that would like to see it happen, but the two sides are just not close.
The reality is, a jersey retirement or any Garnett involvement in the organization will not happen anytime soon. And that’s a decision mainly made by Garnett himself.
“If they can’t even get on the same page to retire his number, they won’t get close to anything else done,” Windhorst said. “But people also said KG would never come back and play for the Wolves again, so I would never close that door.”
So, what will have to happen for both sides to mend their relationship?
Really, only Garnett and Taylor know that answer.
“Someday KG’s number will hang in the rafters, and someday he will be honored for it. Will it happen while Glen is still with us? I don’t know. I sure hope it would,” Windhorst said. “In my time around the NBA, I’ve learned there’s no feud that can’t be resolved. If LeBron (James) can come back and play for (Cavs owner) Dan Gilbert, KG can be a part of that organization. At some point, he will be honored by the organization.”
For now, it’s a waiting game to see which side gives in first. The relationship is going to take a lot of repair, but the goal for the Wolves is to hopefully one day see Garnett back involved in the organization – eventually.
“My feeling is time will heal some wounds,” Windhorst said. “Only KG and Glen really know what they’ve done to each other over the years.”