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Friday, June 22, 2007
Kevin Garnett Says No to Boston Celtics: Selfish or Understandable?
Yesterday afternoon, I was annoyed to hear that Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett does not want to be traded to the Boston Celtics. In fact, he told his agent, Andy Miller, that if traded to Boston, he would exercise an opt-out in his contract next summer to become an unrestricted free agent.
"What is this guy's problem? Why doesn't he like Boston? Why wouldn't he want to play for the NBA team with the most championships? What's good enough for Larry Bird and Bill Russell isn't good enough for a guy who has never played in, let alone won, the NBA finals?"
Those were my initial reactions, albeit as a diehard and perhaps embittered Celtics fan. Although I had mixed feelings about the rumored trade of Garnett to Boston in exchange for Al Jefferson, the #5 pick, Gerald Green, and Theo Ratliff's contract, the thought of Kevin Garnett playing along side Paul Pierce had me thinking playoffs, and a return to something better than mediocrity and way better than whatever adjective can describe the current Celtics.
But then I thought about it more objectively. Why shouldn't Garnett maximize his rights under his contract? In effect, he's using the threat of an opt-out clause as a de facto no trade clause, since no team will likely give up what's needed to convince the Timberwolves to deal him unless that team can be certain that Garnett would be more than a one-year rental.
And what's wrong with that? He and his agent likely negotiated the opt-clause in part for the very situation described above: getting traded to a lousy team that plays in a cold weather locale and that may very well have management and coaching changes within the next 12 months. That doesn't sound like a particularly appealing prospect for a 31-year-old who is probably now thinking about his legacy, which will undoubtedly be judged in part by whether he wins or at least competes for an NBA title--particularly when the Phoenix Suns are also said to be interested in him.
Let's take this a step further. For all the money Garnett earns--and it's a lot, $21 million a year--his job has a serious drawback that few us have to deal with in our jobs: his employer can trade him to some place where he doesn't want to go, and to work for an employer that he doesn't want to work for. So when Garnett tries to prevent a possible trade to the Boston Celtics, he's enjoying a benefit that most of us have in our jobs, and he only enjoys that benefit because he is really good at his job; most NBA players have no such contractual rights. James Joyner on Outside the Beltway has a piece on this subject today. Here is an excerpt:
There aren’t many lines of work where you sign a contract with one company in one location and can be suddenly be shipped to another company, forced to move across the country–or even to Canada–and suffer the family disruption, tax implications, and other consequences at the whim of ownership. There have been instances where a player is traded three times in a single season.
So should we criticize Garnett for what may seem like "selfish" behavior or should we empathize with him for what may also seem like understandable behavior?