No Minnesota Timberwolves player has worn No. 21 since Kevin Garnett last played for the Timberwolves in 2016. Yet, his number is still unretired, despite his No. 5 being enshrined in Boston last year.
The relationship between Garnett, a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer and the greatest Timberwolves player of all time, and the organization is icy at best. Garnett’s issue has been with current majority owner Glen Taylor, who is expected to relinquish his share of the team to former baseball star Alex Rodriguez and former Walmart CEO Marc Lore.
But until that occurs, Garnett is not as interested in getting his flowers from the Timberwolves or a jersey retirement. He told the Globe this past week when discussing his new Veem.tv streaming network that he remains a fan of the team, but he also expressed disappointment in the direction of the city of Minneapolis since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
“When that thing takes on new ownership, maybe I’ll entertain it, but right now I’m rooting for the Wolves to continue their thrust in the second half of the season,” Garnett said. “They’re playing great basketball. Anthony Edwards has put the team on his back. I still follow the team. I still root for the team. But I think Minneapolis has so much to deal with.”
Garnett, along with Kirby Puckett, Randy Moss, Torii Hunter, Prince, and several others, helped change the image of Minneapolis in the 1980s and 1990s. But Garnett said the city has declined considerably in the past few years.
“I think they need to actually focus on that instead of the retirement of my jersey,” he said. “I think the city needs to get to a balance, what I used to know it to be, as a great city to live in and a very, very great place to have a home. It’s a little more than just a [jersey] retirement. I think it needs a whole facelift and a whole makeover, to be honest.”
Garnett had his sights on purchasing the team from Taylor, but in March 2021, his group’s bid was denied. Taylor eventually chose to sell stakes in the team to Lore and Rodriguez over a two-year period.
Now Garnett is more focused on the state of the city.
“I just see the city and what’s going on,” he said. “We can’t ignore what happened with George Floyd and it’s been like seven or eight more situations like that. I don’t find that to be coincidental. I find that to be very bothersome. It affected me as a person who has helped grow that city and really invested in that city. Tough to see where it’s at. Minneapolis is a beautiful place and it’s taken a dismal left turn, [but] it’s good to see the team doing better than it used to be.
“Once new ownership takes over, I’ll probably entertain that. I think there’s a couple of more things that’s above me and that the city can actually do better. I just want to see the city get back to where we know it could be, a dope city that’s freezing cold in the winter and great vibes and lake life in the summertime. That’s what I want to get back to, the Minnesota love. It’s on some other [expletive] right now. I can’t even identify with the city right now.”
Garnett also offered his thoughts on the Ja Morant situation. The Grizzlies guard was suspended by the NBA for eight games for brandishing a gun on an Instagram video, the latest in a series of issues.
Garnett said the key to superstars such as Morant flourishing off the floor is for them to surround themselves with positive but honest people.
“Well, the first thing is I had really good people around me,” Garnett said. “I had a bunch of people that actually loved me. I had real people around me. I had people that told me things they thought I needed to hear, critical to my growth.
“I’m a country boy [from South Carolina], come from a mother with three kids. She raised us with an iron fist in a very, very organized home. I have what we call manners. I have a sense of character. I had very humbling beginnings and in those humble beginnings I never forgot where I came from and the people that came from those places with me. When you are coming into something so big, it’s a rarity, and you have to actually work for that opportunity to be where you are.”
Garnett said Morant has to understand the responsibility he has as the leader of the Grizzlies and one of the most popular players in the NBA. That can’t be taken lightly.
“You earn the right to be captain of the team and you earn the right to the superstar of the team, the face of the league,” Garnett said. “Many faces and many people that the league could promote, he’s one of the faces. And now that conversation has to change. The things that you was doing three, four years ago have to change. You’re on a higher stage, higher everything. Not only magnified one or two times but with social media, it’s being magnified universally. People in other countries can see you in real time.”
Garnett did not criticize Morant. Instead, he offered sage advice on how to improve his image and learn from his mistakes.
“He has to have a conversation with someone that understands the ramifications of where he is growing into,” Garnett said. “This is a compliment to Ja. Both aspects and where you are and the pedestal we’re all put on, is one you actually earned yourself. We’re all sitting here watching this story Ja has given and we’ve been all happy with the narrative until we get to parts like this. Just know that every story has peaks and valleys. Just know that each individual that calls himself a human being has experienced peaks and valleys.
“His father is there with him. He has family around him. If I am his dad, I pull him to the side, I tighten it up. Ja has to change. The things that he did three or four or five years ago aren’t the same now. He’s earned the right to be under a different light. I would tap into the fellowship of players and just get back into a base to where he’s comfortable.”
EYE TOWARD THE FUTURE
Tremaglio sees enormous value in image of players
Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the NBA Players Association, recently sat down with the Globe and offered her thoughts on a variety of topics.
The makeup of the players’ union has changed over this NBA generation, with aging veterans and stars who used to serve on the board being replaced by younger players, such as 24-year-old Celtics forward Grant Williams, who is a vice president. Tremaglio said the infusion of youth is positive for the union’s direction.
“Age to some extent, while it’s significant in terms of them on the court, I think we are dealing with a much more mature audience in terms of experiences, because many of them have been independent contractors from the age of 9,” Tremaglio said. “They’ve been training on teams and moving here and doing that and, quite frankly, I think we’ll see that even more. They will have NIL deals at 13 and, as a result, they have been entrepreneurs and business people probably much longer than the 30-year-olds have been. There’s a lot to be said for getting that experience on the court.
“In terms of the mind shift and business acumen, you are seeing a much more mature business mind.”
Tremaglio would not address the specific issues of Ja Morant but said the union has to continue to offer a strong support system and help players realize the importance of their image off the floor.
“Our union is set up to protect and support them, and with that comes the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she said. “Individually, that’s what we need to do. Collectively, we certainly recognize we have a brand and image we have to protect, as well. No one is perfect. Everyone is going to make a mistake and/or be accused of making a mistake. What we have tried to do is make sure we are there to help them through it and to recognize where they may have some gaps where we the union can help fill.
“A lot of it is about exposure. It’s no different, I’m finding, for our players. They have been performing exceptionally well and it’s gotten them where they are. They have done really well. Now the shift is focusing on the image where, unfortunately, the whole world gets to see because of your heightened presence.”
Tremaglio said she has brought business moguls such as Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, investment mogul Robert Smith, and David Solomon of Goldman Sachs to speak with players about growing generational wealth.
“The exposure that you have because of the money and wealth you have where at the same time you haven’t thought about, ‘I really have to work on my image and brand and how significant that is to my performance,’ ” Tremaglio said. “If you think about making $10 million a year — and that’s all you’ve ever been exposed to and it’s the most money you’ll ever make at the age of 24 — you can’t imagine that there are billionaires that are making hundreds of those.
“I want you to meet the billionaires. If I am going to make the most up until the age of 25, then how am I going to have money in the future? And they should be planting those seeds now while they have platforms to do that. And that’s where the shift has come and that’s what we have to teach them, and if they falter on image and you don’t have the exposure, it doesn’t matter how well you perform. It won’t last.”
Finally, NBA owners want to eliminate the one-and-done rule, allowing players to declare for the draft directly out of high school. The NBPA is not so steadfast on eliminating one-and-done, which has existed since 2005. It seeks to protect the jobs of veteran players, who could be replaced by prep stars.
“It’s actually quite simple. Our players recognize the benefits that they receive from having a veteran player when they were young,” Tremaglio said. “They know it’s critically important. Some of our players now realize what it’s like to serve in that role to mentor others. We at the union recognize for them to be successful they have to have people that are setting the right image for them and their brand. We recognize they have to have exposure to the right people.
“Our goal is to make sure there’s success all around, which means that we need the veteran players. So we’re looking at how we do that because that is critically important to us, more than having age 18, is that they’re going to be successful in the long run.”
Expansion not yet on Silver’s plate
Commissioner Adam Silver said talks with the players’ union on a new collective bargaining agreement have been amicable and he expects a deal to be reached by the March 31 deadline. If that doesn’t occur, the sides could agree to an extension.
“I would just say it’s an absolute priority for us as well to get a deal done as soon as possible,” Silver said at All-Star Weekend. “I think at least what we have discussed across the table from the Players Association is that we wouldn’t publicly list the issues that are potentially keeping us apart.
“I would just say as a general matter, some of the questions I’ve already received, I think for us our greatest focus is having the greatest competition possible out there. I think we’ve made great headway over the years as we’ve improved the system to have more competition, as we’re seeing, clearly, from this season.”
Meanwhile, much to the chagrin of fans in Seattle, Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Louisville, expansion is not a priority. There has been speculation that the league would add two teams once the CBA is completed, but that is not in the immediate plans.
“There haven’t been any discussions on expansion recently,” Silver said. “What I’ve said before, because the topic comes up a lot, I would say mainly people asking me or others in the league about it is that it is natural at some point that an organization expands. In this case because we’re both in a CBA cycle and a national media cycle, our current deals are up in 2½ years.
“The view from our governors has been: Let’s figure out exactly what the new CBA looks like; let’s figure out what our new media deals look like. Then let’s think about expansion. So invariably we will. There’s no active discussions in the league office right now, but we’ll turn back to it in a few years.”
Former Providence standout Kris Dunn has signed with the Jazz for the rest of the season after signing a 10-day contract earlier this month. Dunn, the fifth overall pick in 2016 by the Timberwolves, played in just 18 games in the previous two seasons. He only turned 29 on Saturday, but a series of knee injuries has derailed his career . . . Ben Simmons has been shut down since Feb. 15 with knee and back soreness, with still no sign of a return. The Nets have come together and played inspired ball since that 28-point comeback win March 3 against the Celtics and are using their versatility to their advantage, defending with a group of forwards, while Mikal Bridges has turned into their offensive catalyst, averaging 26.1 points in his first 15 games with the Nets. With the reshaping of the Nets roster, Simmons has become less of a priority and coach Jacque Vaughn has stated the three-time All-Star is not physically or mentally ready to play. It would not be a shock if Simmons did not play again this season. Simmons would be difficult to trade in the offseason because he has two years and $78 million left on the extension he signed with the 76ers. It could go down as one of the worst deals in league history . . . The Timberwolves could get a boost for their playoff run with three-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns getting back to court work after missing 3½ months with a right calf strain. There has been impatience among the team’s fan base because calf strains are generally a six-week injury . . . The Celtics could play a part in Utah’s quest for a play-in spot with the teams meeting twice in a 14-day span, with the Jazz coming to TD Garden March 31. The Jazz were expected to take a dip in the standings once they traded Mike Conley to Minnesota and moved Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to the Lakers. But the slides by the Pelicans and Trail Blazers has thrust the Jazz into contention.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.