by Shannon Booher / @Shannon_Booher

Kevin Garnett, please, do not read this. The summer lockout circuit is no place for aging vets, but I’m hoping a bored KG is not perusing internet basketball sites and does not catch even a whisper of this ranking. The last thing he needs is any more fuel for his basketball fire. He already runs too hot. The 16-year vet’s intensity is legendary—an intensity that was always admired and praised while melting ‘Sota winters, but that has drawn some scrutiny in recent years under the spotlight of the Celtics‘ contending status.

Just last year Spike Lee told him to “calm the f*ck down” and multiple players/coaches/execs called him “dirty” and a “bully,” insinuating that with diminishing skills, he has resorted to a new style of play in order to compete. Numbers don’t back up that theory, however, as his stats have been virtually the same for the past three seasons. That flare up was probably worth an extra yoga lesson or two.

Then Game 4 against the Heat in the Playoffs happened. Then the Heat took the series in five.

Fab said breathe, son, breathe. KG is a guy steadily trying to calm himself down, not pump himself up. He is the guy trying to slap, pound, bang and mumble himself into submission, and you present him with this? After channeling his ‘Sota-self and carrying the team on his back in the Elbow Game, he regresses to the mean in Game 4 and the blame is thrown at him? A team with many skeptics, based on its age and propensity to injury, and it’s the youngest and heartiest of their foundation players who gets hurt, killing its chance at taking out the Heat? Breathe, KG, breathe.

Now there’s a lockout. The Big 3 aren’t getting any younger. Garnett and Ray Allen won’t even be under contract if the ‘11-12 season is canceled. Can the Cs fade a missed season? What does the future hold? What does a bank account missing $21 million+ hold? Whoa. Now might be a good time for one of those Malibu Beach runs, Kevin.

Turn off the Drake and stay away from the headlines. You don’t need to hear all this. Kevin Garnett done seen it all and been through it all. The criticism, in some form or fashion, has been there for years, save for the brief respite during and following the Celtics title season. This offseason, despite an All-Defensive campaign, the same consistent on-court production, a season mostly devoid of injury, and the usual leadership role, the doubters are back. As evidenced by his drop (2010 — No. 29, 2009 — No. 12) in these rankings, people just aren’t sure he can can do it anymore. Uh oh.

So please, Kevin. Don’t read this. Turn off the TV and disconnect the internet. Don’t mumble SLAM’s name under your breath as you bang your head against the stanchion in your next pregame. Take Spike’s advice and calm down. We don’t need you to implode before the next season starts. We need you around for another doggedly consistent season, leading your team to contending status.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.