Welcome to one of the most remarkable “what if” scenarios in recent NBA history.
Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett told the Dan Patrick Show —as transcribed by WEEI.com — that he could have been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007 if he had approved the move.
Patrick: How close were you to joining the Lakers?
Garnett: I was pretty close, to be honest. What’s disturbing about the whole Lakers situation was just Kobe [Bryant] and Phil [Jackson] at the time. They were at each other pretty bad, and a new situation full of uncertainty wasn’t something that I wanted to get into.
Patrick: It was your choice not to go to the Lakers?
Garnett: It was my choice, yes.
Patrick: Because you were worried about the friction with Kobe and Phil?
Garnett: No, I wasn’t worried about it.
Patrick: But that was going on?
Garnett: There was a lot going on, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
Garnett’s decision to pass on the Lakers led to his eventual trade to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff and multiple first round picks. It also left the Lakers without a premier forward, a hole they addressed by trading Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Marc Gasol and two first round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for forward Pau Gasol.
Following all of the strings on this one is almost impossible. To put it briefly, Garnett’s decision totally changed the course of at least four NBA franchises and impacted at least the next three NBA Finals.
Let’s start with the biggest losers: the Timberwolves, as always. The centerpiece in the Garnett trade was supposed to be Jefferson, but he dealt with knee injuries and was eventually a salary dump to the Utah Jazz to clear minutes and touches in the middle for All-Star forward Kevin Love. Memphis wound up receiving Marc Gasol, one of the most promising and productive young centers in the league and a reasonable player to pair with Love. Marc Gasol, like Jefferson, is no substitute or replacement for Garnett, the best power forward of his generation, but he’s a lot better than repackaging Jefferson for nothing.
Had Minnesota moved Garnett to Los Angeles, that would have left Memphis looking for a buyer for Pau Gasol and Boston looking to add a premier talent to put it over the top in exchange for its young prospects. Would there have been a trade match there? If so, could the more passive Gasol joined Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and pushed the Celtics to the same heights — a 2008 NBA title and a 2010 NBA Finals appearance — as Garnett? Probably not. If Boston’s Big 3 doesn’t have as much success and the Eastern Conference playing field is more level, do LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all decide it’s necessary to team up with the Miami Heat? Or, are they instead more patient with their individual situations? Tangentially, how much did Garnett’s arrival and the 2008 title influence our opinion of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? If the Celtics never win a title, are those players a peg or two lower on the historical scoreboard?
As for Memphis, it’s possible that either they hang on to Pau Gasol and spin their wheels, never taking a chance on Zach Randolph, or they ship him somewhere else that doesn’t include the invaluable diamond in the rough that turned out to be Marc Gasol. Do they have their dream run through the playoffs in 2011 if not for the Marc Gasol acquisition? Maybe, maybe not.
The biggest winners in this “what if” scenario clearly would have been the Lakers. Pairing the league’s best player at the time, Kobe Bryant, with the league’s premier forward and best defensive player, plus a young and developing center in Andrew Bynum, would have been a virtually unstoppable combination. Can you imagine how much mentally tougher Bynum would be with Garnett’s mentoring day in and day out? Could Garnett have helped Bryant cut down on the gunning?
Had Garnett approved the deal to Los Angeles, the Lakers very likely would have won the 2008, 2009 and 2010 titles and, depending on how the roster moves were impacted by Garnett’s presence, could have made a much better showing in the 2011 playoffs, during which Gasol laid an egg and dealt with off-court distractions. The Lakers have already enjoyed a significant stretch of Western Conference dominance and their main foe — the Celtics — would have been critically wounded with the absence of Garnett. Had everything broken right, it’s not inconceivable that Bryant would possess seven rings right now instead of five and be right in the middle of the conversation as the greatest basketball player of all time.
Of course, that’s not what happened. But, man, imagine if it did.