BOSTON — After 17 seasons and 14 All-Star Games, Kevin Garnett probably would prefer to take the four-day vacation the majority of NBA players take in the middle of every season. He spent last season’s All-Star break as just that — a break — and came back rejuvenated for the Celtics’ second-half push.
Garnett may have to cancel his mid-February vacation plans this year. The league announced Thursday night that the fans had voted Garnett as one of the three starting frontcourt players for the Eastern Conference All-Star Team, ahead of a few other deserving big men. That led to some dispute as to the 36-year-old’s worthiness, with former players Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal openly claiming that Garnett does not deserve to start the game for the East.
Garnett’s response prior to Friday’s game against the Bulls was just as straightforward.
“I don’t,” Garnett said. “I think you have other guys like Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, everybody else who might be up-and-coming younger guys, that could easily be in my position and have the opportunity to start. That wasn’t the case here.”
As Garnett slyly noted, those players are not starting because the fans voted for him instead. Rajon Rondo will join Garnett on the All-Star team, marking the point guard’s fourth appearance but his first time being voted in as a starter. Garnett pointed out that Rondo never starting an All-Star game before does not mean No. 9 has not been an elite point guard for years.
“It is a popularity contest,” Garnett said. “Let’s be honest. People vote for what they’re familiar with and what they want to see. Rajon has solidified himself as one of those up-and-coming point guards. He’s leading that pack. He’s worked his a– off to get to where he’s at. I’m happy for him.”
A third member of the Celtics may have a case for inclusion on the East roster as well. Paul Pierce is having another outstanding season, even at 35 years old. Pierce is posting his highest player efficiency rating since 2007 and his highest scoring average per 36 minutes since that same season. Garnett flatly contended that “Paul deserves it more than I do.”
Even if his future Hall of Fame teammate does not join him in Houston, Garnett will have no trouble mingling with the rest of the stars. Rondo has said that he likes to keep to himself at All-Star functions, since his temporary teammates become his adversaries as soon as the festivities are over. Garnett has learned when to turn off his distaste for his opponents, though. He even insisted there will be no bad blood between him and Carmelo Anthony.
“I embrace everybody,” Garnett said. “East, West, coaches, you’ve got to treat it that way. You have to mingle, relax a little bit, be amongst your peers and people you play against. I’ve always been one to socialize with everybody and learn the history of the other players. I’ve always enjoyed that. That’s why being an All-Star is what it is. It gives you a chance to kind of relax and be an ‘East’ or be a ‘West.’”
Without saying it, Garnett surely is aware that his opportunities to enjoy the midseason classic are dwindling. As long as he is healthy enough to participate in All-Star weekend, he will soak it in and make the most of it, no matter how much anybody — himself included — insists he does not belong there.