February 24, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Kevin Garnett left Minnesota in 2007 as a two-way force of nature on the court, the kind of player capable of swinging the balance of power in a given conference nearly all by himself.

As he makes his return to the Timberwolves almost eight years later, the 38-year-old is quick to point out that he is no longer capable of carrying the franchise the way he once did. That doesn't mean he can't have a lasting impact on a young and impressionable roster.

''The veteran is kind of a lost art in the league right now,'' Garnett said Tuesday at a re-introductory news conference five days after he was acquired in a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. ''Teams are going younger. The veteran who's been in the league a long time is phasing out. The only way these young guys get better is through some type of leadership, some type of guidance and I'm hoping to bring that with this roster. It's a very promising roster.''

In his 20th season, Garnett is averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in just more than 20 minutes per game, a far cry from the monster numbers he put up during 12 years in Minnesota and six with Boston.

But Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders, who also coached Garnett for the first 10 seasons of his career, isn't bringing in Garnett to be a 20-10 guy and play 35 minutes a night as he did in his younger days. Saunders wants one of the league's fiercest competitors and hardest practice players to set an example for young Wolves such as Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, much like Sam Mitchell did for Garnett when he was a skinny, 19-year-old rookie in 1995.

''As I told KG after we talked, after the trade: `I just want you to be KG,''' Saunders said. ''`Be who you are.' And that's probably the most competitive person I've ever been around. Someone who plays with a great amount of passion. Someone that lets you know how he feels at all times.''

Instead of a game-changer, the Wolves want a culture-changer.

Minnesota hasn't been to the playoffs since Garnett's MVP season in 2003-04, when the team advanced to the Western Conference finals. In 12 seasons with Garnett, the Wolves were 501-451 with eight playoff appearances. In more than 13 seasons without him, they are 313-792 and have never made the playoffs.

His addition to the starting lineup Wednesday night against Washington won't end that playoff drought this season. The Wolves are 12-43 and at the bottom of the West thanks in part to severe injuries to three starters during the first three months of the season.

''I know these are the declining days of my playing days, but I think I have so much more to bring. This is the perfect situation,'' Garnett said. ''This is full circle right here.''

Saunders only plans to play him 15-20 minutes per night, giving the bulk of the time to young big men Adreian Payne, Gorgui Dieng and, when he is healthy, Anthony Bennett.

''Realistically, I'm competitive. I've always said if you can guard in this league, you can play,'' Garnett said. ''Obviously I know I'm not a 30-plus-minute guy. I'm not looking for that. I've already addressed that with Flip.

''Listen, my body is different now and I have to listen to my body. I just want to be effective and productive and whatever I can give I will and that's what it is.''

Garnett will be relied upon to set an example for the young players with how he practices, how he prepares and how he studies opponents. And though his best days are behind him, he still commands respect from a young team that has seen him get standing ovations at Target Center every time he returned as a visitor that were louder than any cheers the home club has received since he left.

''I was kind of excited and afraid at the same time,'' Rubio said after practicing with Garnett for the first time. ''He's KG, you know?''

As loud as the ovations were for Garnett when he returned to Minnesota with the Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, they figure to be dwarfed by the roar he receives Wednesday night when he puts the No. 21 on his back. No Timberwolves player has worn the number since he left in 2007, and no player has resonated with this downtrodden fan base the way Garnett has throughout his career - even after he left.

''It's going to be crazy,'' said Mitchell, now an assistant coach with the team. ''The fans are going to be emotional. No one ever thought this day was going to come. For a great player to come home and finish out his career, it doesn't get any better.''

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