ROME - Back in 1995, heralded rookie Kevin Garnett's eyes were wide open when Sam Mitchell took him under his wing with the Timberwolves. After 12 seasons of wearing a Minnesota uniform, Garnett's only frame of reference of the NBA was based in Minneapolis.
But while visiting with Mitchell, now Toronto's coach, Thursday night, Garnett told his old teammate that the way things are done in Boston seems to be a lot better than what he was accustomed to in Minnesota. Tonight, a rejuvenated Garnett makes his Celtics debut against the Raptors in their preseason opener at the PalaLottomatica.
"I'm a little bit revived," Garnett said after yesterday's press conference at the Rome mayor's office. "It's good to be around excellence. It's cool . . . The organization, everything so far has been first-class. Obviously, the guys on the team [and coach Doc Rivers have] been phenomenal. In 13 years, this is the best camp I've been involved with by far . . .
"I've never experienced a lot of things that have been going on. But you can definitely tell a difference in the organizations. It's revived me, I will say that. I'm having a lot of fun."
The Celtics and Raptors are staying at the same hotel, which made it easy for Garnett and Mitchell to visit. Mitchell spent nine seasons in Minnesota and was Garnett's teammate from 1995-2001. Garnett, a 10-time All-Star, has said Mitchell taught him how to be a professional after entering the NBA out of high school.
Not long after the Celtics acquired Garnett in a blockbuster trade in July, he called Mitchell to tell him how ecstatic he was to be going to Boston. Garnett reiterated those feelings to Mitchell in Italy.
"[Garnett] loves being in Boston, loves his teammates," said Mitchell, the winner of this year's Red Auerbach Trophy as Coach of the Year. "He said if he knew the NBA was like this, he would have wanted to be traded a long time ago . . .
"I just think everybody does things a little different and he just enjoys it. When you've been in one place your whole career, you forget how other people do things and he's never seen how other organizations work. I think he's very impressed with the way Boston treats their players and how they do things."
Tonight will also be the first time the Celtics see how Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce work together. Pierce acknowledged the trio is having some "growing pains" adapting to one another, but he expects everyone to be on the same page by the start of the regular season.
"To be honest, we've had our inconsistencies, our ups and downs," Pierce said. "But we kind of expected that as we're getting to know each other. We're learning each other's tendencies, learning what each other likes.
"When you get a new girlfriend, you're still learning about her. You're still trying to figure out what she likes. That's pretty much what it is. But it's coming along pretty good and we are going to build a great relationship."
Said Allen: "We're finding out a lot of things about the guys on the team. We're finding out a lot of things about [the three of us and], what we need to do and what we don't need to do."
There has been much ado about the Celtics since the acquisitions of Garnett and Allen. But in actuality, the Raptors are the reigning Atlantic Division champions and seemed to have mixed feelings about the new Celtics.
While Raptors All-Star forward Chris Bosh said the Celtics look "phenomenal on paper," he cautioned, "They haven't played together yet. It's tough. As a team we know how it is trying to come out of the gate not really familiar with each other."
Said Mitchell: "There are a lot of teams that can compete for the Eastern Conference and the championship, so you've still got to go play."
New Celtics center Scot Pollard returned to Boston yesterday to have an MRI on his sprained left ankle. The 11-year veteran, who has not practiced since training camp started Sunday, said he sprained the ankle several weeks ago. Pollard will remain in the United States and wait for the team after it completes its European tour with a game against Minnesota in London Wednesday. Rivers said the main thing is for Pollard to be healthy when the regular season begins. "I wish I could just snap my fingers and the ankle would be perfect, but I guess that's not the case," said Pollard.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com.