Vocal leader Garnett true voice of team
Garnett’s words come through loud and clear
PHOENIX — The Celtics’ roster has been filled with listeners for the past few years, and the ones who haven’t listened are gone.
The current group has nothing but listeners, making Kevin Garnett a happy and vocal teammate, pushing aside the private guise and pouring even more emotion into the team’s improvement.
Garnett is the conscience of the Celtics, the first player to remind his teammates of their misdoings. The first one to call out mistakes and offer encouragement. His return to the lineup a few weeks ago after missing nine games with a right calf strain was instrumental because the watchdog had returned.
As the Celtics enter another highly publicized game against an archrival — tomorrow’s matchup with the two-time defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles — their recent success is dissected, examined, and diagnosed.
The Celtics have become a winning organization again because they acquired winners, and those winners will either play with winners, or those whose attitudes are in question will be removed. That’s the only atmosphere in which Garnett can exist, so after the Celtics disposed of the Trail Blazers Thursday night at the Rose Garden, Garnett spent nearly seven minutes — approaching his personal high for a postgame interview, expressing his happiness with his leadership role. And how the others are responding to his advice.
“You know, I really don’t pay attention to the young guys watching me,’’ Garnett said. “[Rajon] Rondo had to pull me to the side, and the last two years I think I’ve been a lot more of a mentor to these young guys. These young guys have a lot of pride. They don’t like to ask a lot of questions. They like to watch from the side and what I’ve done, I don’t like to push myself on anybody. I do n’t like to be someone who’s forced [myself] upon someone. So I don’t do that to other people.’’
Rondo and Kendrick Perkins continuously pushed Garnett to be more forthcoming with his knowledge.
“But these last two years I’ve been a lot more aggressive with showing guys things and walking through things and picking their brain,’’ Garnett said. “We’ve always had open dialogue since I’ve gotten here and I just took it to the next level. I have a strong rapport with every guy in here. And it’s just going to the next level. It’s helped on and off the court.’’
The Celtics’ chemistry has been changing almost daily with the return of Perkins, injuries to Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, and the presence of Delonte West, who made the trip, a sign that he is close to returning from a broken wrist.
It is Garnett’s job to remind the newbies to maintain that precision and intensity. Sometimes his antics may be considered overboard by fans and opposing players, but that’s the only way Garnett knows how to communicate. His brutal honesty has offended teammates in the past, but he can always be relied upon for a pure assessment.
“We have guys back and guys come in, but what we can’t do is lose execution because guys are coming back,’’ Garnett said. “We play a certain way. It’s not just when you want to. We have a certain style we play, no matter who’s in there. We set picks. We get our shooters open. We get our scorers open. If you come outside that role, there’s another guy behind you ready to do what you were supposed to do. Everybody is disciplined in here. We don’t have those problems. We have a very, very unselfish team.’’
His off-court lifestyle is extremely private. Garnett is rarely spotted in public. During a recent practice, Garnett offered his home to coach Doc Rivers to watch one of the football games, “if you can find my crib,’’ he laughed. But he has removed that shield — slightly — and embraced his teammates, unlike in the past.
The Celtics may not reach the Finals again or injuries may hinder them from defending their Eastern Conference title. But what won’t stop their efforts is infighting or lack of cohesion. Garnett polices the locker room, and his assessment of team harmony is unusually positive.
“We actually give two cents about each other, which is a rarity,’’ he said. “We actually care about each other off the court, which is a big plus. And I’m not just saying that to make your column whatever it is. This is true life. We enjoy each other. We’re like brothers. We complain. We argue. We debate. We laugh. Guys go through things. We’re like brothers. Real life.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.