KG's impact on Nets more than meets eye

Kevin Garnett arrived in Brooklyn back in July 2013 with Paul Pierce at his side and championship expectations on their backs.

The Nets surrendered a king’s ransom for the Celtics’ title-toting duo –- three first-round picks and the right to swap firsts in 2017.

Today, all Brooklyn has left to show for that blockbuster deal is Thaddeus Young after Garnett accepted a deal to Minnesota in exchange for the 26-year-old forward.

Before we say farewell to KG, we should acknowledge Brooklyn made a good deal basketball-wise and financially in getting Young. GM Billy King drafted the forward in Philadelphia and has coveted him for some time. Young likely won’t lift the Nets into the upper half of the Eastern Conference playoff pack. But he should help the Nets make a push for a playoff spot in an improved East (Detroit and Miami made potentially impactful trades) and gives Lionel Hollins some much-needed athleticism.

And while they did not make the big splash they were hoping to by sending Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City for Reggie Jackson, the Nets might have come away with a best-case scenario. Who knows? The fact that the Nets got left hanging in the Jackson sweepstakes -– Jackson went to Detroit after it appeared for most of the day that he would be Brooklyn-bound –- could be a blessing in disguise.

The Nets have been trying to break up their Big Three for months in an attempt to get younger, add more assets and build more interest in their product. They seemed prepared to build around Jackson. Jackson put up some gaudy numbers at times as a fill-in starter but clearly things fell apart in Oklahoma City between Jackson and the team.

Jackson wanted a lucrative extension and a chance to show what he can do. The Nets were ready to give Jackson the opportunity to prove he was worth the big money in exchange for their oft-injured big man whose own future is uncertain. But there’s no guarantee the former Thunder backup point guard is a franchise player or a sure-fire star in the making.

Lopez has played well of late coming off the bench and the Nets will keep their fingers crossed that the center remains healthy. Brooklyn will hope to make the playoffs this season and then try to potentially retool in the summer, all while owner Mikhail Prokhorov looks to sell the team.

Now back to KG. You can say how his production didn’t equal the enormous price paid to acquire him and Pierce. Not even close. But his value always was in the intangibles he brought, such as his leadership, his quarterbacking the defense and covering up for teammates' defensive weaknesses, his passion and his mentoring of younger players.

In his season and a half in Brooklyn, Garnett played a total of 96 games and had one playoff series victory.

He did have a few memorable moments along the way, such as his touching return with Pierce to Boston last year. We got a glimpse of his unbridled passion when he dove on the floor for a loose ball before standing up and unleashing the trademark primal scream during Game 3 of the first round against Toronto last year.

Later came his most important performance as a Net: a 12-point, 11-rebound effort in Game 7 to help Brooklyn escape Toronto with the win. Pierce secured that victory with a game-clinching block.

But by the end of the next series in Miami, Garnett looked cooked. Jason Kidd would leave the franchise just more than a month later, with Pierce not far behind. Even though he signed on to play for Kidd and with Pierce, KG didn’t retire or ask for a trade; he returned for a final season worth $12 million. He also, by all accounts, did not seek a buyout to join a contender.

Garnett played in 42 games this season, averaging just 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 20 minutes a game. He may have made more noise with his antics -– the fake snapping turtle-like bite at Joakim Noah and the tussle with Dwight Howard –- and his terrific sound bites.

He didn’t always talk but when he did, KG could deliver gems. He memorably dubbed Joe Johnson as “Joe Jesus.”

“He might not be there when you call on him,” Garnett said. “But he’s there when you need him … Joe Jesus.”

And when the Donald Sterling controversy broke out around the Clippers last season, Garnett was asked about almost becoming a Clipper before joining the Nets.

“I’m a Net,” Garnett said. “I don’t focus on almost. In high school, I never dealt with the chick that almost wanted to go out with me.”

Garnett had a unique way of putting things in perspective. And he tried to motivate and teach his teammates. When the Nets were in the midst of a horrendous 10-21 start in 2013-14, they were routed, 95-78, by Chicago at home before a nationally-televised Christmas Day audience.

A furious Kidd had enough, lighting into his team after the debacle and calling out the players for basically a lack of heart and effort. Garnett stood up and vented before storming to the showers. Sources stressed Garnett backed Kidd and didn’t do it to show up the then-rookie coach but rather to send a message to some of his teammates about his frustration over the team's lack of fight.

Days later, the Nets would go on a stunning turnaround and ended up winning 44 games after that 10-21 start. Garnett, along with Pierce, tried to get the best out of Deron Williams as well, knowing that the Nets needed the mercurial point guard if they wanted to go far in the postseason.

At times, the veterans went out of their way to pump up Williams publicly while also giving him some tough love privately when needed.

“When things get tough, he has a support system to let him know that it’s not the end of the world, and to not be so hard on himself,” Garnett said during last year’s first-round series against Toronto. “Deron’s biggest problem has been Deron. He’s very, very hard on himself, to the point where you have to pull him to the side and give him some real s---, say some real s--- to him.”

And this ultimately will be where we will see Garnett’s true impact and what his Nets’ legacy will end up becoming. We have to see if KG’s legendary intensity and ultimate teammate approach rubbed off on any of the Nets –- specifically the young and emerging Mason Plumlee. It’s also a big part of why Flip Saunders is bringing Garnett back to Minnesota and putting him around Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins.

Garnett might not have been able to get the Nets past LeBron and to a conference final as the franchise had hoped for back in July 2013. He certainly didn’t justify giving up three first-round picks. And maybe he and Pierce were unable to get Williams to overcome injuries and return to playing like an All-Star.

But in less than two seasons, KG gave us a few memorable moments that we can look back on fondly and say, “Remember when KG did this?” He provided the previously vanilla Nets with some relevancy and a star persona, at least on a national level. Without KG’s personality and swagger, the Nets will have a void to fill.

And his biggest contribution to Brooklyn might not be known for a few years, until we see if he did indeed make a lasting impression on the Nets' next big man hope -- young Mason Plumlee.