This time, KG will play at Target Center
By Jon Krawcyznski
MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Garnett’s return to Target Center after being traded to Boston was as emotional and riveting as it was short.
On a chilly February night last season, Minnesota basketball fans packed the arena once more to cheer their departed hero, giving KG a deafening reception when he was introduced before his new team played his old team.
Garnett beamed a wide smile, raised his hand to the sky and then pounded his heart, thankful for the stirring reception he earned by dumping gallons of sweat on that court for 12 seasons as the franchise player for the Timberwolves before he was dealt to Boston in July 2007.
Then, just like that, it was over.
Garnett disappeared to the back tunnels of Target Center, sitting out with an abdominal strain while his Celtics edged the Timberwolves.
"The things he did here, how can you not love him?" Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson said Thursday. "I watched him as a kid growing up in middle school and high school. The fans have every right to love him and respect him."
That Garnett did not play in his one and only game back in ’Sota, as he loves to call his former home, was a tremendous disappointment not only to the fans who paid to see him, but to the Timberwolves he left behind.
The young group charged with rebuilding the franchise after Garnett left badly wanted to play against "The Big Ticket" in the house that he built.
"It was tough. You wanted to get that feeling of him being back out there," forward Craig Smith said. "This year, he’s definitely going to play so we’re definitely going to be ready."
The rematch comes tonight. Garnett is healthy this time around, though Wolves coach Randy Wittman joked he wouldn’t mind seeing him head back to the locker room after the pregame once again.
"Actually, if he doesn’t want to play (to)night, that’s fine," Wittman said with a smile.
Garnett’s return to Minnesota, and the prospect of him actually playing this time, was a hot topic at Timberwolves practice on Thursday, but the team is trying to turn the page on that history.
"We got to see him twice last year. That’s over and done with," Wittman said. "I’m always happy to see him. He’s always going to be a close, personal friend. But not tomorrow."
The two parties have gone in polar opposite directions since Garnett was traded for Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green and two draft picks before last season.
Garnett teamed with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to capture that long sought after championship trophy. They are rolling right along this season as well, off to a 10-2 start heading into Thursday night’s game against Detroit.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, are still trying to find an identity without No. 21 growling, woofing and dominating in the middle of their lineup.
Despite making several improvements to the roster after a miserable 22-60 first season without Garnett, the Wolves had lost eight in a row before defeating Philadelphia on Wednesday night for their second victory of the season.
The crowds have been terrible at Target Center all season long, the economic downturn combining with the team’s competitive downturn to create a half-empty arena on most nights.
That figures to change on tonight. Garnett is still beloved in this town, perhaps even moreso after enjoying so much success in his first year in Boston while the Wolves’ struggles have only worsened since he left.
"I know Kevin did a lot of great things for this city, but I’m looking at it as just going out there and just trying to beat the Boston Celtics," guard Randy Foye said. "I hope the crowd gives him a standing ovation and everything.
"But other than that, when the ball is tipped up, it’s now the Timberwolves versus the Celtics. He’s got that green jersey on and we’ve got that white jersey on so everybody in that building should be cheering for us, not for him."
Sounds like wishful thinking.
"Since he’s playing, there’s going to be a packed house," Smith said. "There’s going to be a lot of Celtics jerseys. But I think we’re going to come out and play hard."