Retired forward Kevin Garnett will have his No. 5 hung from the rafters in Boston, the Celtics recently announced and though he was only in town for six seasons, he had a significant impact on the franchise. The Celtics sent a truckload of draft picks and players to Minnesota in the summer of 2007 for Garnett, who joined Paul Pierce and the recently acquired Ray Allen in a ‘Big Three’ that turned a flailing franchise into a juggernaut, winning the 2008 NBA championship and reaching the 2010 Finals.
In both of those championship series, Garnett and the Celtics faced off against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, a team that was remade around Bryant with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum in the frontcourt.
But as Garnett tells it, there was a very real chance that he could have teamed with Bryant in Los Angeles rather than with Pierce and Allen in Boston — the Lakers would have given up Odom and Bynum in such a deal. Before he approved a trade, though, he wanted to talk with the principal players in whichever team he would pay for next.
He chatted with Pierce, whom he’d known for a while. He chatted with Steve Nash, because Phoenix was interested in trading for him. But he could not get hold of Bryant.
Here’s what Garnett told NBA.com’s Steve Aschbruner: “In ’07, I had a chance to go to Phoenix. I had a chance to go to the Warriors. To the Celtics, obviously, and the Lakers. I was trying to get Kobe on the phone, and he was on a Nike Italy Something [tour]. … I had to make a decision. I had a conversation with Steve Nash, and it was a terrible conversation. And I had known Paul [Pierce], Paul and I were friends from way back, 14-15 years old.”
Garnett was Reluctant to Leave Timberwolves
Garnett did not want to leave Minnesota, where he’d played since he was drafted out of high school in 1995. But the Timberwolves had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons and were 32-50 the previous year. The team accepted that it would need to rebuild. Garnett said he was talking with friends Tyronn Lue and Chauncey Billups about it at the time.
“That’s when I first started to actually think about, ‘I’ve got to leave Minny? Aw man,’” Garnett said. “Shoutout to Minny, man. I didn’t want to leave but I felt like I had no choice, too. But the opportunity in Boston was a great one, I’m glad I made the decision to do that. I’m glad I had friends, real ones, to kind of take me through that.”
Garnett certainly had some influence on where he’d be traded but the ultimate decision did come down to Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale, who had become enamored with young Celtics big man Al Jefferson.
That probably had more of an impact on Garnett landing in Boston than his missed connection with Bryant.
Could Garnett Co-Exist with Kobe Bryant?
Of course, Garnett, Pierce and Allen survived and thrived in Boston because all three were in the latter parts of their careers and were willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. The question of a Bryant-Garnett pairing would have been whether either would have been willing to sacrifice.
Garnett was also known for being tough on teammates. He was well-liked, but also was willing to push buttons. Might that have been a problem with Bryant?
“People know me, I’m a very sure person — I don’t lack any confidence in myself,” Garnett told Aschbruner. “But I can also be a great Robin. I’m a Batman, don’t get it twisted. I can be a great Robin. Paul Pierce is a big ego, he’s a big personality. That’s what he shines at. I understood I was coming to his team, and I wanted him to know that. I played a great Robin when I had to.
“But in my own life, I’m an alpha, I’m a king, I run my own stuff. I don’t mind being able to step to the side and let someone be great also. Absolutely we could co-exist. If (Bryant) could play with Shaq he could play with me. One my greatest attributes is that I was a great teammate, whoever it was. You can ask that.”