NEW YORK -- If the Boston Celtics want to sign Stephon Marbury, they have Kevin Garnett's blessing.
Not an outright endorsement, mind you, but KG is perfectly cool with the concept that has taken on considerable steam since it was reported last Thursday by colleague Marc Stein that Boston management is hopeful of signing Marbury if he reaches a buyout agreement with the New York Knicks.
"I'm not opposed to Steph. I feel Steph still has a lot of basketball in him, I know his IQ is very, very high. He is one of the best point guards out there to play with. I wouldn't be opposed to that," Garnett said Sunday in his first public comments on the possibility of Marbury joining the Celtics.
Asked if he'd take his lack of opposition a step further and outright endorse the possible acquisition of Marbury, Garnett put the brakes on.
"I know where this is going, y'all. Y'all relax, OK?" Garnett told a small crowd of reporters who waited over an hour for him to speak following the Celtics' shocking 100-88 loss to the Knicks. "If Steph came to this team and made it better, I'm all for that. If anybody came to this team and made it better, I would be for that."
Of course, Marbury remains the property of the Knicks, who are not exactly enamored of the idea of Marbury joining an Eastern Conference rival and remaining relevant well into June -- a good two months after the Knicks' own 2008-09 relevancy will have long since expired.
New York is even less enamored with Marbury possibly joining the Miami Heat -- one of the teams the Knicks expect to be contending with for one of the final playoff spots in the East. But even though president Donnie Walsh planned to check into whether NBA rules permit him to make a deal -- whether a handshake deal, or something in writing -- with Marbury in which New York would offer a larger buyout sum if Marbury agreed to sign with a Western Conference team, the league doesn't allow such stipulations. The Chicago Bulls had a handshake agreement of that sort with Tim Thomas three years ago when they bought him out and allowed him to sign with Phoenix, and the Knicks can work out something similar. But they can't legally prearrange a divorce agreement that designates which conference the bought-out player would relocate to under NBA guidelines.
In speaking with ESPN.com prior to the game, Walsh made it clear that he plans to take his time moving forward on any Marbury resolution -- even going so far as to say he wouldn't be completely surprised if some team comes to him in the next six weeks and makes him a trade offer for Marbury in order to clear long-term salary. (To date, he said no team has made a trade offer of any sort for Marbury.)
Walsh was quick to add that he would not want to take on any salary beyond the 2009-10 season, but when he was asked if he would change his mind if he had a chance to acquire a top-caliber player, Walsh responded affirmatively.
"There's an exception to every rule," Walsh said, adding that he could immediately think of two players (the educated guess here was that one player he was referring to was Baron Davis of the Clippers) who might become available six weeks from now if current leaguewide won-loss trends hold. "You never know when some team might decide things didn't work out as planned and they want to blow it up and start over."
Well, it would appear ill-advised to hold one's breath on any kind of a timely resolution to the Marbury situation.
Walsh plans to speak with Marbury's representative from the players' association sometime this week, but there have been no talks between the sides since Marbury stormed out of buyout talks after only 15 minutes last month, then subsequently withdrew the offer he had made to the Knicks in which he would accept $1 million less than his $20.8 million salary in a buyout.
People close to Marbury say it is of paramount importance to him to recoup all the money he is due to make this season, so the only factor that might push this matter to a quicker resolution would be if a team -- either the Celtics or someone else -- let it be known to Marbury's camp that it'd be willing to go above the veteran's minimum to sign him. Such a signal would likely prompt Marbury to move on his buyout number.
But it seems more likely that this stalemate drags on through February.
And if the trade deadline comes and goes with Marbury still filling one of the Knicks' 15 roster spots, New York would then hold considerable leverage in subsequent buyout talks because Marbury would have to clear waivers by March 1 in order to be playoff eligible for another team.
So, the bottom line here is that KG sees no reason not to welcome Marbury aboard, and the Celtics might now feel a little more strongly that they need a better offensive option on nights like this one when Rajon Rondo (who was benched by coach Doc Rivers for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter) is not up to the task of knocking down the open looks teams are going to keep giving him.
"A slump? We're not in a slump," Rondo said afterward, somewhat defensively.
Paul Pierce added: "You know, we have six losses. The world's not coming to an end. We have the second-best record in the NBA, and it's a long season."
Problem is, the second-best record was not something the Celtics were speaking proudly of less than two weeks ago.
They are slipping, and Garnett's public OK'ing of a Marbury signing is as sure a sign as any that the Celtics are not at all comfortable with where they're at right now despite 29 victories in their first 35 games.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.