Kevin Garnett didn't demand his locker back, the same one he had for 12 years as the Timberwolves' franchise player. Upon returning to Minnesota in February, Garnett let rookie Zach LaVine keep the spot, taking the one next to the then-19-year-old.  

Perhaps Garnett wanted to stay close to the promising guard. And LaVine, along with several other talented younger Timberwolves, needed the veteran presence. Though the Hall of Fame-bound big man only played five games in his Minnesota return, Garnett made an impression.

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"Just the way he talks," LaVine said after the season. "He's a competitor, has that Hall of Fame aura to him. It just passes down to the next man. When you see him in practice and see how he works, it's just a blessing that we have him."

The T-wolves have a multitude of problems, starting with a lack of experience being featured on most nights. Their talent, with LaVine, rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins and others, is impressive but unproven. They still have more questions than answers, which is nothing new for the T-wolves and their fans.

Minnesota hasn't made the playoffs since 2004, after Garnett's lone MVP season.

That's 11 years with no postseason. And this year's injury-plagued 16-win effort was the franchise's second-worst of

the span, behind a 15-win 2009-10 season. In Flip Saunders' first season back as coach after returning to be team president in 2013, too many injuries, too much youth and not enough talent led the Wolves to one of their worst seasons ever.

Saunders has dealt with situations like these before, dating back to his first stint as Wolves head coach. As this season played out, Saunders frequently referenced his time with a rookie Garnett, on a 1995-96 Timberwolves team that won 26 games.

“At one time, people thought I wasn’t tough enough on Garnett. I couldn’t be tough on him because he was doing everything I asked him to do,” Saunders said in early January. “He rarely made any mistakes, he played hard, and because of how he was playing, if he kept playing like that, I thought he would be great.”

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It was obvious early to Saunders that Garnett not only would become a great player, but also would become the team's motivator, leader and backbone. This made the decision to bring Garnett back in a trade for Thaddeus Young that much more obvious.

On paper, the trade looks like a failure. Garnett, 39, played only five games for the Wolves after the trade and had to sit to close the season due to knee troubles. But the players and coaches found success.

“He's had a huge impact on everybody here. Not only the players; the staff, everybody," Wiggins said. "The energy he brings on and off the court, you can feel him even when he's not there. On the court or in the locker room, you can feel his presence.”

That on-court result was impressive in its own right. The T-wolves' defense, on the perimeter and inside, was horrendous this season. But in the 98 total minutes Garnett played, the defensive rating (measuring points allowed per 100 possessions) was 93.8, which easily would be the best in the league. Offensively, there wasn't much of a change, as Garnett has been mostly relegated to a catch-and-shoot guy from the elbow. But his impact on defense, especially vocally, helped the Wolves turn the corner.

Once he was unofficially shut down for the season, the team's giddiness over acquiring Garnett shut down, too, as did its short-term defensive success. But Garnett remained on the sidelines, vocal as ever. If he noticed something he didn't like from Wiggins, LaVine or fellow rookie Adreian Payne, he'd let them know the first chance he got.

"What I love more than anything, he made his teammates better," Saunders said. "Whether it was on the floor, off the floor. Whatever he did, he made them better. That's why we brought him back here."

Reports surfacing suggest odds that Garnett will be back next year are good. He has not put together a full season in years, but it sounds as though that won't matter to the young guys, who know that whether he plays or not, he'll be around. He'll be watching and leading, as he did in Minnesota for more than a decade before. The only difference this time is the locker.