by Eddie Maisonet III / @edthesportsfan

The Last of the Mohicans.

That’s what my best friend Kenny called him when I asked him about Kevin Maurice Garnett recently. A dinosaur, if you will. The man who turned 36 years old this summer is now embarking on his 18th NBA season, has evolved his way to No. 32 on this sacred SLAMonline Top 50 players list. I say “evolved” because, when I found out KG landed at No. 32, I thought this was some mistake. KG? The 14-time All-Star, was now… relegated… to the… 30s? This must be blasphemy.

Of course, I get it. This is about the “what have you done for me now” ranking? The probability and likelihood of future results from one player is what ultimately gets you ranked higher or lower (See: Rose, Derrick). This list is meant to be an objective listing, not an emotional one. Otherwise players like Earl Smith III would make this Top 50 list. Judge me if you want.

Yet this is about Kevin Garnett, a one of a kind player and with stars of the 1990s fading to black like never before, we’ve seen Garnett become a fossil. One whose bones let us know immediately he comes from a different era, and when he’s gone, there won’t be another one like him for a long time.

To many, Garnett has changed. From The Kid to the leader of the Team Uncle All-Stars. From a bundle of joy and a crotchety grouch. From a raw talent to a refined machine. Kevin Garnett has changed, but our perceptions of him have changed too.

Many of you hate Kevin Garnett now. The fist pumping, egregious cussing, small foreign-born players bullying big man had become a side show of sorts. What seemed like theatrics to many, was a defense mechanism to keep Garnett’s mind focused at the task at hand. Along with that, his necessity to become the unquestioned leader of a Celtics squad that has a locker room that’s devoted to his mission, their mission, of pursuing the ultimate prize.

That’s not to discredit Doc Rivers or Paul Pierce, but while Doc brings a level of calm and Paul a level of consistency to Gang Green, Garnett brings that dog out of himself on to the court, and it’s carried over into now the most important player in Boston: Rajon Rondo. Rondo always had an attitude, but now this, “I don’t give a got dam”-ness that he’s exuding is exhilarating to see, and it’s a direct reflection of Garnett’s leadership. It takes the Celtics to a different level, one that saw them one game away from making another appearance in the NBA Finals last season.

So this is what it’s come to for Garnett now, a man who’s transcended his game to be an elite defender, even if his scoring ability has declined recent years. Yes, that finishing ability around the rim is virtually non-existent, and yes, he shoots that 20-foot jumper like it’s going out of style, but while some see as a futile exercise, I see as KG conserving his energy until when the game truly is worth a damn.

I could be delusional about my appreciation for KG, but I don’t care. KG says he doesn’t want to talk to Ray Allen anymore, I’m totally fine with that. KG decides to elbow Evan Fournier in the mouth, I’m totally fine with that. KG wants to make Fab Melo cry because he feels it’s necessary, I’m totally fine with that.

So just remember these things when you start getting mad at KG for God knows what, and remember that there will be a time soon that you won’t be able to complain about such shenanigans and tomfoolery. No. 32? Please. Just wait until you see the folks who are ahead of Garnett, then wonder how you feel about said person being on your team versus KG. How confident do you feel? Not very, right?

That’s what KG does—he always gives his team a fighting chance.


Where should Kevin Garnett rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.