Garnett had by far the worst statistical season of his career in 2013-2014, capped off by a two-point, eight-rebound performance in Wednesday’s Game 5 loss to Miami that eliminated Brooklyn. Garnett scored 24 points total in the five games against the Heat and is a sad shell of his former self on the floor.
Garnett is scheduled to make $12 million next season in the final year of his contract and is considering retirement, which would be a huge favor to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov at this point in terms of luxury taxes. Garnett could elect to return to the team next season, but would he do so knowing that he is not nearly the player he once was?
Garnett is still a vocal and emotional leader and a positive influence on his teammates, but think about the Nets’ roster for next season. Brook Lopez will likely return from his foot injury that sidelined him for the majority of the season, and it would make sense for Mason Plumlee to start at power forward alongside Lopez, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce, if he returns.
Andray Blatche (assuming he decides to return) and Andrei Kirilenko provide strong frontcourt depth, and playing time would be further muddled if the team re-signs Shaun Livingston, whose versatility was so instrumental in Brooklyn advancing as far as it did in the postseason.
Would the Nets have the ability to be a far better team without Garnett? Undoubtedly so. Here are all the career lows Garnett set this past season, an indicator of how far he’s fallen:
Would KG – undoubtedly a future Hall-of-Famer with a lot of pride – be okay with playing fewer than 20 minutes per game next season for a team with enough quality frontcourt depth without him? Garnett basically has become a defensive specialist, because his 93 points scored per 100 possessions is something that could drag the Nets down offensively next season.
Right now, Garnett brings the right attitude and culture to the team, but not the production. He turns 38 on Monday, so it’s hardly a stretch to think that his production could fall off even more next season. Just look at his dropoff from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014:
As you can tell, Garnett’s one-season decline was precipitous. Logic would dictate that his play would fall off even more next season, assuming he can even remain healthy enough to play as much as he did this season. Even if he can maintain the 20 minutes per game he played this past season, he won’t be a better player overall than Lopez, Plumlee or Kirilenko given the expected decline in his production.
If Pierce and Blatche come back, Garnett would realistically be the Nets’ sixth best frontcourt player at $12 million next season. That’s also not taking into account Mirza Teletovic and European player Bojan Bogdanovic, whom GM Billy King said could be in the team’s plans next season.
“I don’t think he has it anymore,” one talent evaluator told SheridanHoops. “The KG we saw this year is the same personality we know in a broken down body with bad knees, no explosiveness and no lift. He needs to decide whether he wants to have a season where he plays 10 minutes a game or wants to hang ’em up.”
Garnett did not talk to the media after Wednesday’s game, opening things up to speculation about how things will shake out between player and team. Coach Jason Kidd said Thursday that the team would love to have Garnett back next season, but it’s tough to know when it’s the right time to retire and call it quits.
If the Nets were smart, they would coax Garnett into retirement and move forward. Yet a player of Garnett’s caliber and stature deserves to leave the game on his own terms.
If KG returns to the Nets next season, he will do so knowing he is not even close to the player he once was.
And in truth, the Brooklyn Nets would be better off if he left the game for good.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.