Nets fill toughness void with Garnett

By on June 30, 2013

The Knicks-Nets rivalry gets way more intense with Kevin Garnett’s arrival in Brooklyn.

Kevin Garnett will growl, set moving picks, degrade the opponent and give the Nets everything they were lacking with his obnoxious and grating personality: Toughness.

It’s rare for a team to admit that it’s soft, lacking heart, drive and leadership. But that was the reality for Nets following their first-round defeat to the Bulls, a battered and undermanned team that fought its way through a seven-game series because Brooklyn let it happen.

It was clear what the Nets were missing, and Deron Williams laid it all out after it was over.

“(We need) toughness. We got out-toughed in that last series, especially (in Game 7). … It starts in training camp. We’ve got to kind of find our identity.”

The Nets went through all the stages. There was denial, acceptance and then action, in the form a trade to fix the problem when GM Billy King pulled off a coup on Thursday by snatching Garnett and Paul Pierce for a package of mostly reserve players and draft picks.

Garnett, aka The Big Ticket, will demand more out of Brook Lopez. He’ll make sure the intensity never drops in critical moments. He’ll give rookie head coach Jason Kidd an ally in his locker-room struggle for the greater good. Just ask former Celtics coach Doc Rivers how important Garnett is to holding it all together. Rivers loved Garnett so much he tried to bring him to the Clippers but couldn’t because a coach and player deal was blocked by the league.

Kevin Garnett hits a new low in trash talking last season by going after Carmelo Anthony's wife.

Jim McIsaac/getty Images

Kevin Garnett hits a new low in trash talking last season by going after Carmelo Anthony’s wife.

He’s Elmer’s glue with attitude. Garnett has a higher lifetime salary than any player in NBA history, is still a winner, at age 37, raises the Nets’ pulse from barely detectable last season to rapid intensity. There’s also instant respect from LeBron James — who hasn’t lost to the Nets since Kidd was in their uniform — because he knows what it’s like to battle Garnett and Pierce.

The Nets are no longer pushovers to King James’ Heat or Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks across the East River.

“Not only does Garnett have a loud voice — and it can be really loud — but his example speaks even louder,” Celtics GM Danny Ainge told the Boston Herald last year. “His approach to his teammates isn’t always the best, because he sets such high expectations, and it can be loud. But he only wants to win. Just by the example of his own commitment, he brings more out of these guys.”

Brooklyn didn’t have that. Williams was the leader, but too many times looked more frustrated by his own play and surroundings. Poor body language has been a two-year critique of Williams, ever since he was traded from Utah. Lopez and Joe Johnson are quiet by nature, uninterested in being emotional pick-me-ups for a team that fired two coaches last season.

Then-coach Avery Johnson recognized the apathy in the preseason last year.

“This team does not have the personality that I thought it would have,” Johnson said in October. “We don’t have a hit-first mentality, and if you don’t have a hit-first mentality, you’re going to get hit.”

Kevin Garnett gives the Nets the tough enforcer they so sorely need.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Kevin Garnett gives the Nets the tough enforcer they so sorely need.

Garnett draws his line in the sand, and then crosses it with his words. He was voted by peers in 2010 the NBA’s top trash talker, according to Sports Illustrated, receiving an astounding 62% of the vote in a field that included every player. He has taken the act too far at times, accused of calling Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient (Villanueva has an autoimmune disease that causes him to lose hair), mocking the death of Tim Duncan’s mother and making sexual references about Anthony’s wife.

As much as the opposition might want to go at Garnett’s throat — and Anthony Peeler successfully did that with a vicious elbow in 2004 — he is a respected teammate, dedicated to winning.

“I’m a big fan of veterans,” Garnett told a Boston radio station last year. “More importantly the league being full of young guys, they probably needed somebody just to teach some of the young guys on work ethic, being consistent with your work ethic, and loving this game and giving 100 percent.

“And not just bull—- going through, not just half-assing, entitlement, respecting, earning what you get and really, really setting yourself for the future. Not just riding off potential, but actually becoming something.”

At this point, it’s unknown whether Garnett is gung-ho about coming to Brooklyn or if he waived his no-trade clause simply to avoid the rebuilding disaster heading for Boston. Reportedly, Kidd and Williams called Garnett on Thursday night to sway his decision, which only took a couple of hours. Both Garnett and Pierce have not spoken publicly since the framework of the blockbuster deal was agreed upon. Perhaps the next time we hear from Garnett will be after the trade becomes official on July 10, when the Nets will undoubtedly schedule an extravagant press conference to introduce the pair of future Hall of Famers.

The Nets are the only team with five All-Stars in their starting lineup, with a combined 30 appearances between them. Las Vegas believes they emerged out of the draft as immediate title contenders, with sportsbook Bovada dropping their odds overnight from 40-1 to 10-1.

At the very least, because of Garnett, the Nets have a fighting chance.


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