Kevin Garnett is a fascinating, divisive figure in the NBA, which makes his career the perfect subject for an oral history. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report carried out this task for our Internet pleasure, and for that we thank him (that link takes you to part two. It’s long).
We’ve already discussed the portion about KG crushing a young Joakim Noah’s soul, but what may be of more interest to some is the biggest “What if?” of Garnett’s career: What if the Timberwolves had traded KG to the Los Angeles Lakers instead of the Boston Celtics? The people involved in the trade told Beck that it was closer to happening than you remember.
Phil Jackson, who’s seemingly always available to contribute to these things, recalled making “a big push” for Garnett in the summer of 2007, when the star was on the block. He says it almost worked, too:
Dr. [Jerry] Buss came to me and said, “I have a handshake agreement with Taylor, that he’s going to come to L.A. But McHale hasn’t concurred yet.” So I said, “Well that’s a good excuse.” You always, as an owner, say, “I’ll do this, but …” So I kept that hope out there, that he was gonna be a part of the Laker organization.
Glen Taylor, then the Timberwolves’ owner, claimed he didn’t want to keep KG in the Western Conference and that he liked Boston’s offer better. That doesn’t jibe with Jackson’s account, and memory isn’t the most reliable source, but we know (and this story confirms) the Lakers offered a package centered around Lamar Odom and a then 19-year-old Andrew Bynum. What the Timberwolves wound up getting from Boston was Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green, a couple of other players and two first-round draft picks (one of which, according to Basketball-Reference, was used to pick Johnny Flynn. Remember him?).
Beck says that most around the league thought the Lakers offered a better package, and some suspected that T-Wolves GM Kevin McHale did his old team (and former teammate Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ GM) a favor. Jackson even copped to suggesting as much (although he was probably joking/being salty), but KG’s agent, Andy Miller, gave a more plausible reason:
I think that what McHale was looking for, on top of picks, was a core young piece, and he was infatuated with Al Jefferson at the time.
Jefferson wound up having a pretty good career (which still isn’t over, but might be winding down) as a reliable low-post scorer, but he never became the franchise cornerstone McHale sought. Maybe the Celtics offered more picks than the Lakers did. Regardless, can you imagine what a Kobe-Garnett Lakers team would have looked like? Talent aside, that would have been the most curmudgeonly NBA team of all time.
(H/t Bleacher Report)