JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For 12 years in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett gave the Timberwolves something they didn’t have before he arrived and haven’t had since he left — an identity.
Now the Old Wolf who put the franchise on the map is coming back to the place it all began. And it won’t be for just one final victory lap.
The Timberwolves sent forward Thaddeus Young to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday for Garnett, the beloved icon who will be tasked with tutoring a young and impressionable nucleus in hopes of ending a playoff drought that will reach 11 straight years this season.
“Kevin doesn’t like change,” said Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders, who coached Garnett for 10 years in his first stint in Minnesota. “That’s how he’s always been. But I think when he looks back, he doesn’t think moving from Brooklyn to here as a big change. I think he looks at it from moving back and being home.”
As the deal started to take shape, some envisioned the 38-year-old Garnett coming back for a final two-month swan song before retiring this summer. But the Wolves hope to sign him to a new two-year deal when his contract expires, according a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking. The person requested anonymity because both sides have yet to discuss the parameters of a deal, and won’t until he becomes a free agent July 1.
That ensures the Wolves will have him on the court as a veteran mentor for a young roster that includes point guard Ricky Rubio, No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
“I’m going to be here with my notebook and see whatever he does,” Rubio said. “I remember watching him with the Timberwolves and the Boston Celtics winning a championship, playing against him was something special. You could see players were afraid of him. That means he was tough, but he was a winner. No matter what a team needs to do, he did it.”
The Timberwolves and Nets had been discussing the possibility of bringing Garnett back to Minnesota for some time leading up to the trade deadline on Thursday, but he didn’t inform the two teams that he would waive his no-trade clause until about 30 minutes before the trade deadline.
Garnett was drafted straight out of high school in 1995 and spent his first 12 seasons in Minnesota. He guided the Timberwolves to the only eight playoff appearances in franchise history and won the MVP award while leading them to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
The Wolves traded Garnett to Boston in 2007 and the Celtics won a championship in his first season there. Garnett remained with Boston until he was dealt along with Celtics mainstay Paul Pierce to Brooklyn on the night of the 2013 draft.
Now he’s back, though Saunders said he will not make his debut until Wednesday night at home against Washington.
“When you think of the Timberwolves, you think of Kevin Garnett,” Wiggins said. “That’s the first thing that comes up.”
In Minnesota, he will be reunited with Saunders and assistant coach Sam Mitchell, one of Garnett’s favorite former teammates.
Pierce spent just a year in Brooklyn and now Garnett is gone too, with the Nets getting a solid replacement in Young, who has played much better as the season went on. Young is only 26 and in the prime of his career, which made the Wolves initially reluctant to part with him. But he has a player option on his contract for almost $10 million next season and was routinely undersized at power forward, so he likely did not figure into Minnesota’s long-term plans.
“Thanks @MNTimberwolves organization and fans for welcoming my family and I. We really appreciate you all,” Young tweeted. “Hello @BrooklynNets, can’t wait for the new opportunity ….. my family and I are very excited and ready.”
Garnett is no longer a force on offense, and has often sat out the second night of back-to-back games. But he remains a solid rebounder and defender, plus a highly regarded locker room leader who should make an impact on a young Timberwolves team. He is averaging just 6.8 points and 20.3 minutes per game for the Nets, who are languishing on the fringes of playoff contention in the lackluster Eastern Conference.
The Timberwolves have never made the postseason without Garnett prowling the paint. He may not be the player he was when he left in 2007, but the Wolves hope that when they return to the playoffs, Garnett will still have a major influence.
“Whatever he says, we’re going to do it,” Rubio said. “He’s going to have the voice in the locker room. We’re going to learn a lot from him. It’s great. Not just because he did great things over here. He’s been one of the greatest ever in this sport and I’m happy to be his teammate.”
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