MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves are preparing for life without Kevin Garnett as training camp approaches.
The Wolves have been working on a plan to buy out the final year of Garnett’s contract if he does not retire, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no deal has been completed.
Garnett has yet to fully engage with the Timberwolves on substantive discussions about his desire for the upcoming season. That has caused the Timberwolves leadership to consider a number of options and scenarios for the 40-year-old franchise icon, including a buyout or the possibility that he decides to retire after 21 seasons in the league, including 13 1/2 in Minnesota.
If he decides to play, it would be his 22nd season in the league, something no NBA player has ever done.
Training camp opens Tuesday, with new president and coach Tom Thibodeau, who worked with Garnett in Boston, and GM Scott Layden coming in with a mandate from owner Glen Taylor to speed the rebuilding process in hopes of ending the longest active playoff drought in the NBA.
Garnett is under contract for $8 million next season, but has been hampered severely by recurring knee and leg problems over the last two years. He played in just 38 games for the Timberwolves last season and only played in five games down the stretch for the Timberwolves in 2015 after returning to Minnesota in a trade deadline deal.
But Garnett has served as a valuable mentor to a young and impressionable roster, helping Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng learn about what it takes to be successful in the NBA. Towns, in particular, has lauded Garnett’s influence and has taken to wearing a throwback Garnett Wolves jersey during several public appearances this summer.
ESPN first reported the buyout discussions.
Garnett was very effective when he was on the court, providing a defensive presence and value that belied his paltry averages of 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. But his body would not allow him to play for sustained stretches. The Timberwolves also have center Nikola Pekovic under contract for two more seasons. Pekovic has chronic foot issues that have rendered him unable to play, so the prospect of having two big men with bad legs on the roster is a daunting one for a team that is hoping to end the longest active playoff drought in the league this season.
Garnett spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Wolves, being drafted in 1995 straight out of high school and helping turn one of the league’s moribund franchises into a perennial playoff team. When the team plateaued after a run to the Western Conference finals in 2004, Garnett was eventually traded to Boston in 2007, where he won a championship alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Coach Flip Saunders engineered a reunion between Garnett and the Wolves in 2015, convincing the proud veteran to come back home and help him rebuild a franchise that bottomed out after Garnett’s exit. The charismatic star was revered by the youngsters on the roster and talked openly of one day hoping to become an owner in Minnesota.
But Saunders died suddenly after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma just before last season started and Taylor has sold two minority stakes in the franchise this summer and had discussions with other groups about eventually selling his majority share, leaving little indication that Garnett will be able to assume that kind of a role.