There is no denying that Kevin Garnett will go down as one of the best players of his generation. But after Friday night's mini-blowup in Phoenix, you have to wonder how many of his peers will miss him when he does finally hang up the sneakers for good.
Scuttled in between all of the success that KG has enjoyed since his career was resurrected in Boston are instances that have questioned what type of player he is. To some extent, there are instances that have questioned what type of person he is, too.
Ask any analyst or teammate, and they'll talk about that neverending motor, an intensity and desire to succeed at any cost, and a willingness to defend almost maniacally. Those are undeniable facts. Garnett has a Defensive Player of the Year award in his trophy case, and he's also a regular on NBA All-Defensive teams. And there are few players that compete at that level of intensity every game - a trait that endeared him to so many basketball fans because he did it on a perennial loser in Minnesota.
But talk to his opponents, and some would discredit all of the above in one simple word: dirty.
If you didn't see the Suns game, late in the fourth quarter Channing Frye attempted a 3-point shot as Garnett closed out on him and tried to get a hand up in his face. As Frye raised up, Garnett's right arm followed through and hit Frye in the groin. Frye collapsed to the ground and quickly got up into KG's face, before the mini-melee ensued and Garnett got ejected.
After the game, Frye also insinuated that it wasn't the first time KG pulled that move on him. "Once? Maybe. Twice? That's a little much," he said.
Garnett was suspended for a game during last year's playoffs against the Miami Heat for dropping an elbow on the side of Quentin Richardson's face. With Paul Pierce falling to the ground near the Miami bench, Garnett escalated things by pushing through between Richardson and Pierce and landing the elbow. That prompted Bulls centre Joakim Noah to chime in as well, the first player to publicly challenge the alleged antics of Garnett.
"I'm going to say it: He's a dirty player," Noah said. "He's always swinging elbows, man. I'm hurting right now because of an elbow he threw. It's unbelievable. He's a dirty player. It's one thing to be competitive and compete and all that. But don't be a dirty player, man. He's a dirty player."
And then there's that mouth. There are so many memorable verbal jousts he's had - Raptors fans will recall his over-the-top trash-talking session with Jose Calderon. He also made it a point to flat out taunt then-Blazers rookie Jerryd Bayless, who at the time had amassed little more than a full game's worth of NBA minutes.
But perhaps the lowest blow wasn't the one he landed on Frye, but the verbal shot he is alleged to have uttered to Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva vented his frustrations on Twitter after the Pistons-Celtics game.
"KG called me a cancer patient, I'm pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he's tossing it like it's a joke ... I wouldn't even trip about that, but a cancer patient, I know way 2 many people who passed away from it, and I have a special place 4 those."
He added he "would love to get in a ring with him. I will expose him."
Garnett replied quickly: "I am aware there was a major miscommunication regarding something I said on the court last night," Garnett's statement read. "My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact 'You are cancerous to your team and our league.'
On Sunday, the league deemed that Garnett deserved no further discipline for what happened in Phoenix, saying his actions were not intentional or harmful. But there's a growing group of players that will be quick to tell you otherwise.
On to this week's matchups
Miami at Orlando (Thursday, 8pm et, TSN2): Say what you want about Chris Bosh, but maybe it isn't too far fetched when Erik Spoelstra last week said that Bosh, in many ways, was the most important player on the Heat. As Raptors fans shudder and vomit collectively at that statement, the numbers don't lie: with CB1, they're 31-10. Without him, they are 2-4. Maybe it has to do with the fact that he is really the only truly talented player they have on the interior. He did return Sunday in Oklahoma City, so he'll have some game time to get ready for a run-in with Dwight Howard. By the way, who would have thought that after acquiring Hedo, JRich and Arenas, the top three impact players for the Magic would have been Howard, Ryan Anderson and then Turkoglu? Anderson has become one of the nicest surprises in the NBA this season.
San Antonio at Los Angeles Lakers (Thursday, 10:30pm et, TSN2): What a way to wrap up a double-dip on the 'Deuce, as the Lakers get a chance to avenge a thorough beatdown in their first meeting this season. Last season, the Spurs struggled, which many believed was due to a loss of athleticism overnight. A year later, it turns out they just needed to get healthy. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson are leading and finishing in transition, George Hill and Gary Neal are the young legs stepping into the picture, while DeJuan Blair does the heavy lifting, letting Tim Duncan be, well, Tim Duncan. Now, it's the Lakers that are the consensus veteran club that is sorely lacking athleticism. I'll believe more of the talk about a championship hangover. Like veteran laden squads have shown in recent years (hello, Celtics!), the regular season only means so much. It's all about the playoffs.
Dallas at New York (Wednesday, 7:30pm et) Dallas at Boston (Friday, 8pm et):
After that mostly Dirk-less losing slide where the Mavericks dropped seven of eight, they appear to have righted the ship. Nothing like an east coast swing through a couple of show-me states to prove it. Despite their record creeping closer to .500 than they want, the Knicks are no easy out, and can beat any team, any time. As for the Celtics, Kendrick Perkins has finally united a dominating Boston starting five. And the reserves are also close to being complete with the expected returns of Delonte West and Jermaine O'Neal shortly. When healthy, it's hard to argue that the Celtics are the deepest team in basketball. It's hard to argue that the Mavericks aren't right behind them - especially since reloading on the fly adding Peja Stojakovic to compensate for the end-of-season injury to Caron Butler.
New Orleans at Oklahoma City (Wednesday, 8pm et): As this week's edition of WSH was being put together and about to heap praise on Chris Paul and company for riding the league's current longest winning streak at 10, the Hornets lay a stinker in Sacramento. Streak over. Doesn't change the fact that they are one of the best stories in the NBA, playing so well despite so much financial instability surrounding them. They'll get a chance to face off with a potential first round opponent (if the season ended today). Obviously thei Paul-Russell Westbrook match-up is must-see, but keep an eye on Trevor Ariza on Kevin Durant. Ariza is one of the long, athletic defenders who could actually cover him one-on-one. But it may be moot, as Durant has been scorching lately, and is easily in the top two in basketball in terms of natural scoring ability.
Denver at New Jersey (Monday, 7pm et): We all knew that the LeBron going to Cleveland and New York, and Chris Bosh going to Toronto would provide the most vocal and venomous crowds. Those took most of last season and a free agency summer we'd never seen before to create that sort of animosity. And in just a few short months of work, Carmelo Anthony should have the boos rain down on him when the Nuggets visit Jersey. The Nets aren't known as one of the most loyal fan bases in the NBA, but expect a decent sized crowd to show up in an otherwise rudderless season. Should be a nice warm up for 'Melo when he decides to eventually spurn the Nuggets and realize his dream to suit up for the Knicks. You know, once the lockout ends. Eesh.