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Monday, June 17, 2013
Updated: June 18, 4:29 PM ET
KG's goodbye would hurt most

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

Shrouded by the still-unfathomable possibility that Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers could skip town -- this after his unforeseen change of heart in facilitating a rebuilding process -- is the fact Rivers nearly made a break for Los Angeles with Kevin Garnett in tow.

Let that marinate for a second: The Celtics were very close to not having Kevin Garnett any more.

No ferocious chest pounds. No crazy food analogies. No pregame head-banging on the stanchion. No four-letter expletives picked up by courtside microphones. No more telling Boo Boo to go to bed. No bar fights. No late-game grooving to Gino (someone better send a VHS of that American Bandstand clip to whatever destination he lands in if he does leave town; nothing makes Garnett happier).

Oh sure, we knew this day was coming. Celtics fans were downright paralyzed by the idea that Garnett might retire last offseason, only to dance in the streets to news that he inked a three-year extension.

Kevin Garnett
Even at age 37, Kevin Garnett is a game-changer, and his off-the-court impact is immeasurable.

It was still a year-to-year pact for Garnett, but it seemingly ensured that he would retire in green. Heck, he said as much when -- as rumors swirled about his future before this season's trade deadline -- he announced (unprompted) in early February that, "I just want to say that I love my situation [in Boston] & I bleed green and I continue to do that. And, if it's up to me, then I'm going to retire a Celtic. So I just want everybody to know that, all right?"

Now there's a very real chance that Garnett might retire elsewhere. While Boston's talks with the Clippers appeared to die Tuesday, there's always the chance Garnett is shipped out to facilitate a rebuilding process if the Celtics elect to go in that direction.

It's impossible to overstate what Garnett has meant to the Celtics franchise. His arrival changed virtually everything for a Boston team coming off a dreadful 2006-07 season in which it lost a franchise-record 18 straight games. Garnett embodied the "Ubuntu" team-first mentality that -- five years ago Monday -- left him bellowing, "Anything is possssiiiibbbble!!!" after the Celtics secured Banner 17 to cap his first season in Boston.

At age 37, the player once nicknamed "Da Kid" is now "Da Grandfather," the league's active leader in games and minutes played after Jason Kidd retired last month. But even with 18 seasons of NBA miles on his tires, Garnett is still a game-changer. Just look at what he did in the postseason this season against New York, trying to single-handedly will the Celtics while attacking the glass like he'd rolled back the clocks to his 2003-04 MVP season (all with a bum wheel).

Need a reminder of what Garnett has meant to Boston? Here's a sample of Paul Pierce back in 2012 after the Celtics were eliminated by the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals trying to put Garnett's legacy into proper perspective (this given the uncertainty that lingered headed into that offseason).

"Well, [Garnett has] been everything for my career," Pierce said. "Just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination, his leadership. I've said it before, when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here -- from the practice habits to on the court, just the discipline. He made everybody accountable, from the ball boys to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable. It was tremendous to just have him around. The culture he brought -- it would be great for me to end my career with Kevin."

Now, as the Celtics consider the process of ushering in a somewhat overdue roster overhaul, there's a chance that Boston will have neither Garnett nor Pierce, the lifelong Celtic and team captain, to guide them moving forward (if Garnett were to be shipped out, it makes it less likely Pierce would be retained).

The same culture shock that occurred when Garnett arrived could happen in reverse if he departs.

Suddenly, a Boston team whose success was predicated on defense the past six seasons doesn't have its backbone anymore. Garnett spent recent years making the likes of Greg Stiemsma and Semih Erden look like All-Defensive team nominees by quarterbacking the defense (with his play and his voice). So very often, Garnett shuffled over with help defense that made his floormates -- and Boston's defensive rating -- look better.

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Eventually, he will be gone, and Boston will be exposed without him.

And that doesn't even begin to touch on what Garnett meant in the locker room. Rivers, who had pondered simply walking away from coaching after recent seasons, might have been pulled back in part by his own devotion to Garnett and what he meant to his coaching career.

Before a late-season game in Miami in April, Rivers was gushing about Garnett and his legacy, one that he swore could have been even grander if he wasn't so unselfish.

"I think every coach should have a chance to coach him for one day," Rivers said. "Really, I just think he's the best team superstar to ever play the game. & He's so team-oriented, everything he says, everything he does. He makes you a better coach, there's no doubt about that."

Rivers, however, isn't about to let anyone else coach him, probably not even for that one day. That's why he's trying to jam Garnett in his carry-on bag, because he knows that Garnett could have changed the culture in Los Angeles -- even if he plays just one season -- just the way he did in Boston. He could have given the Clippers an honest-to-goodness chance to compete for a title just with his leadership.

Amid some growing animosity toward the indecisive Rivers, who previously pledged to aid Boston's rebuilding process when he inked a five-year, $35 million deal two summers ago, it doesn't seem like it's hit the Boston fan base yet what Garnett's departure would mean. Everyone is so fixated on Rivers as the centerpiece of a rather unprecedented potential swap that the magnitude of Garnett's departure has been masked.

There is, too, some question about Garnett's loyalty. Back in February after being voted an All-Star starter, Garnett was asked about playing out his contract in Boston and noted that, if he had his way, "I will retire a Celtic and be buried in green and that's where it stands."

He did, however, leave the door open for the organization to go in another direction and, being so allergic to change, it speaks volumes that he's willing to uproot himself at this stage of his career in order to follow Rivers on a title chase. Like his coach, Garnett assuredly has no desire to endure a roster overhaul (even if it means leaving his good buddy Rajon Rondo behind).

A potential Garnett departure is unlikely to tarnish his legacy here. Just the opposite, his absence might only hammer home what he meant to this team.

Most Celtics fans knew this day was coming. Heck, few expected to squeeze six seasons out of Garnett when he arrived from Minnesota in a franchise-altering trade. But the day he leaves, Boston will never be the same.

Maybe Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said it best on the radio last month: "I'll never see another Kevin Garnett in my life, I'll miss him forever the day he's gone."