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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Celtics wise to wait on Kevin Garnett

By Peter May
Special to ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- On his blog Friday, Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett wrote that after having his leg looked at, he was "real close to getting back."

He's still real close.

The Celtics host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, weather permitting. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday after practice that Garnett, who hasn't played in two weeks because of a strained calf, probably would not play. But Rivers wouldn't rule out a return totally.

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett has missed 56 games in less than four seasons with Boston after missing 25 in 12 years with Minnesota.

"I don't think he's ready yet," Rivers said. "He could play. I don't think he will. There's a chance."

But he probably won't, and frankly, I hope he doesn't. I'm with Rivers on this one. I don't want to see KG back on the floor until he is completely healthy.

I don't care what the Miami Heat are doing (and neither, says Rivers, does he). I don't care what the Orlando Magic are doing (and neither, says Rivers, does he, although he reminded everyone that he does live in Orlando during the offseason). I don't want to see Garnett back on the floor until he is 100 percent ready.

That doesn't seem like an unreasonable expectation, and yet, given the way the Celtics have played the past two games, there undoubtedly will be some clamoring for the return of the team's defensive conscience.

Sure, the Celtics could have used him against the Houston Rockets on Monday. But have we not learned anything from last season, when KG dragged his leg across the floor for most of the campaign when he clearly wasn't 100 percent? Let the guy heal. Take your time, KG. I'd like to see him back for the MLK game against the Magic, but only if he's ready.

Part of the agita surrounding Garnett's potential return date is the man himself, who chooses to make himself invisible while not playing. We were told Tuesday that Garnett was at practice, running on a treadmill, doing defensive slides, lifting weights. We never saw any of it.

We are told Garnett is at all the games. He is there before, during and after the game, talking to his teammates. We see none of that.

"He's around," Rivers said. "He just doesn't like to be seen."

Garnett sustained his latest injury Dec. 29 against the Pistons. A day later, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said Garnett would be out for possibly two weeks but said that was a conservative estimate. Two weeks from Dec. 29 is Wednesday.

Rivers said Garnett did not participate in a rather physical practice Tuesday. He said Garnett will not participate in any shootaround Wednesday because there will be no shootaround. (That was decided before the predicted snowstorm.) And Rivers generally doesn't let anyone who can't make a shootaround play in a game that night.

"He's just not ready yet," Rivers said. "He's close, very close. You know how I am with that. He wants to play. But I don't think he should play yet. I don't think he's ready yet. It's day to day. He could play. I don't think he will. But there's a chance."

This "will he or won't he" has been a hardy perennial ever since Garnett joined the Celtics in 2007. Prior to that, he was a paradigm of durability. He missed games at the end of seasons, but those were with bogus injuries. He showed up. He played. In one six-season stretch, he missed three games. The issue of KG playing was never an issue.

That has not been the case since he set foot in Boston. His first season, an abdominal strain sidelined him and he missed 11 games. Then came the big knee injury in 2008-09, forcing him to miss 25 games and all of the postseason. He missed an additional 13 games last season. Combined with the seven he has missed this season, that's 56 games over 3½ seasons. In 12 seasons in Minnesota, he missed 25 games and many of those were with "wink wink" injuries.

There hasn't been any of that in Boston. Unfortunately for the Celtics, it's all legit. There was no debate when Garnett pulled up in obvious pain in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The only question was, how bad was it? No one had touched him. But the fact that he had been healthy to that point -- as opposed to two years ago, when he had been hurting before seriously injuring the knee -- makes this injury appear to be less serious.

And that's why it's important to remember that what matters most is that Garnett returns when he's healthy, not when he wants to. That would have been last week. Rivers won't let that happen, and good for him. After everything the Celtics have been through these past two-plus years, is there any doubt that the team needs a healthy, feisty No. 5?

Wait until he's ready. Not when he's real close.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.