Former Boston Celtic and two-time NBA champion Cedric Maxwell has takes. His latest: Future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett is the best all-around player in Celtics history.
“Kevin Garnett is the best all-around player the Celtics have ever had,” he said while guesting on the CNLS podcast, Celtics Beat, as transcribed by Boston.com. “He was a better defensive player than Larry (Bird) — not as good offensively. He was a better offensive player than Bill Russell — not as good defensively. But you could say that Kevin Garnett was no slouch on either one of those things. He’s one of the top players to ever play the game.”
The final part of Maxwell’s opinion is not debatable. Garnett is one of the 15 or 20 or 25 greatest ever. He was the arguable best defender of his era and earned Defensive Player of the Year during his first season in Boston. He’s one of the most brilliant pick-and-roll stoppers ever to guard the back end of a ball-screen. But Maxwell’s take isn’t conventional — if only because Garnett’s best years didn’t even come with the Celtics. His decision would still be unpopular if he’d said Garnett had the best career of anyone who has been on the Celtics, but at least he’d have a better case.
Garnett won his MVP in 2004, when he was on the Minnesota Timberwolves, for whom he played his first 12 years seasons and most of his prime. He averaged a double-double for his career but never actually did so for a single season in Boston. He accomplished the feat nine times in Minnesota, where he once led the league in rebounding four years in a row.
Of course, Garnett didn’t win nearly as much with the Wolves, getting out of the first round of the playoffs only one time. He was the probable best player on a title team in Boston. But Bird, who was Maxwell’s teammate for the first six years of his career, was the best player on three title teams. Russell, meanwhile, famously has 11 rings. Both guys are considered top 10 ever. Sometimes, top five.
Still, Maxwell turned to Garnett’s oft-praised locker room presence as an overriding factor.
“He defined what they did and the biggest thing he did, like Larry Bird, like Bill Russell, he changed the culture of this team,” Maxwell said. “When you have Paul Pierce — Paul had been a great player all his life, but Paul Pierce became more of a great player when he was around Garnett. (Rajon) Rondo became Rondo. (Garnett) made guys. He made Doc Rivers a better coach.”
Maxwell played for the Celtics from 1977 to 1985, winning titles in 1981 and 1984.
Fred Katz covers the Celtics for MassLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.