September 02, 2011
Did a beef between Kobe Bryant(notes) and Phil Jackson prevent Kevin Garnett(notes) from becoming a Los Angeles Laker in 2007? K.G. said as much in an interview with Dan Patrick on Thursday, but we're somewhat dubious.
We held off on this story on Thursday, the day of the Patrick interview, because we didn't think that Garnett's bit of mostly harmless self-aggrandizing would stick anywhere. We generally respect the heck out of K.G., someone who was our favorite player in the post-Michael Jordan era, but he seemed to simplify things a bit too much in his recollection with Patrick. So much so that too many people seemed to latch on without giving it too much thought.
Garnett touched on two other interesting if unrelated topics in his 11-minute appearance with Patrick. The first was the possibility of him joining the Lakers as opposed to the Celtics before the 2007 season. Garnett made it clear he absolutely wanted out of Minnesota, but he said turmoil in Los Angeles prevented him from playing there.
"I was pretty close to be honest," said Garnett. "What disturbed me about the whole Lakers situation was Kobe and Phil at the time. They were at each other pretty bad, and it was a new situation I didn't want to get into."
[BDL Note: This is where Patrick asked Garnett, "This was your choice?"]
"It was my choice, yeah. There was a lot going on and I didn't want to be a part of it."
There was a lot going on that year. The 2006-07 season was rife with trade rumors, starting with a potential Garnett-to-Chicago deal on the night of the 2006 draft that then eased into a Pau Gasol(notes)-to-Chicago deal that never happened. When the Celtics fell out of the lottery race for Greg Oden(notes) and Kevin Durant(notes) even after finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA, they quickly went into win-now mode.
The team sent the fifth pick in the draft (Jeff Green(notes)) and Wally Szczerbiak(notes) to Seattle for Ray Allen(notes). This was a gutsy move, because while a Paul Pierce(notes), Allen and Al Jefferson(notes)-led squad could have made the playoffs if healthy, cashing in all your "we-were-the-worst-team-in-the-NBA-last-year" assets on Allen was risky. It was clearly, because Boston hadn't included the expiring contract of Theo Ratliff(notes) in the deal, a hopeful prelude toward grabbing K.G.
Garnett, both in the days leading up to the draft and for weeks after, was rumored to be going to Los Angeles, Phoenix (for a package including Amar'e Stoudemire(notes)) and Boston. Before the Allen trade, even with Kobe Bryant's presence in Los Angeles, Phoenix seemed the best spot for K.G. With Stoudemire, the Suns had won 61 games and lost a tough Western Conference semifinals pairing with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers? They had Kobe. But to get Garnett, they had to give up both Andrew Bynum(notes) and Lamar Odom's(notes) very large contract. A similar offering was rumored to be sent to Indiana later that summer in exchange for Jermaine O'Neal(notes) -- just in case Lakers fans want to wake up in a cold sweat at some point this weekend. A Kobe/KG partnership would have been fantastic, but with what little depth the team had at that point, how far would it have taken Los Angeles? This was a team that had shuttled out of the first round two years running, mind you.
That would be enough for Garnett, one would think, to prefer Phoenix or the potential of Boston (especially after the Allen deal). A limited Lakers roster would have featured Kwame Brown(notes), K.G., either Luke Walton(notes) or Vladimir Radmanovic(notes), Bryant and Derek Fisher(notes) as starters. And not much to holler about coming off the bench, save for the then-unheralded Trevor Ariza(notes).
Kobe and Phil's beef? Geez, at that point Kobe and Phil were all either one had.
Kobe and Phil Jackson were far from fast friends during the time the Lakers won three NBA titles from 2000-2002, and they were certainly at odds during the tumultuous 2003-04 season detailed by Jackson in his book "The Last Season." After a year spent removed from Shaquille O'Neal(notes), Jackson and the triangle offense, Bryant graciously accepted Jackson's return (after Jackson made bank airing Kobe's dirty laundry) in time for the 2005-06 season, though Kobe and Phil could only do so much with that team's roster in Los Angeles' consecutive first-round defeats.
Bryant did have beef, but it was with young big man Andrew Bynum, as famously detailed in that parking lot rant against the 19-year-old center in the summer of 2007. And it was Los Angeles' apparent refusal to trade Bynum for -- you name it: Jason Kidd(notes), K.G., Jermaine O'Neal -- that led to Bryant's trade demands in the summer and early fall of 2007. When a deal to Chicago fell through, Bryant and the much-improved Bynum ended up leading the Lakers to one of the Western Conference's best records even before trading for Pau Gasol in February 2008.
So, Kobe and Phil being "at each other pretty bad" in 2007, as K.G. noted Thursday? No, they weren't.
Also, at that point, Kobe Bryant had the league's lone no-trade clause, so it wasn't as if Garnett could stop a deal between the Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now, the Lakers could hold off on trading for K.G. if it became obvious that he didn't want to re-sign, but the way Garnett told it on Thursday, he came off as an eager free agent that passed on signing with Los Angeles because he didn't like how Kobe and Phil were fighting. None of those things are true.
The part about Los Angeles acting as "a new situation I didn't want to get into?" Oh, you should totally buy that. Even though Garnett had lived in Malibu for years at that point.
Garnett is incredibly loyal. He may have knocked years off his career, and MVP titles from his trophy case, by not demanding a trade from the Timberwolves earlier. Instead, Garnett had to waste away in Minnesota from 2004-07, working for terrible lottery teams being run into the ground by Kevin McHale, all while remaining the consummate professional throughout. That guy gave his all for a team that didn't give back. Or, at least attempted to with wasted front-office effort instead of front-office foresight.
It took Boston, with McHale's former teammate Danny Ainge running the show, and two vets of Garnett's generation already in place, for Garnett to wink-wink/nod-nod his way into acknowledging that he'd be open to signing a contract extension following a trade to Boston. Because any sort of assertion from K.G. before a trade to Boston would be tampering; and we don't want to impugn anyone 'ere.
The results were more than satisfying. The Celtics won a championship in Garnett's first season, probably would have made the Finals in his second had Garnett not gone down with a knee injury, and they made the Finals again in 2010. Four years later, Boston is certainly aging as they hope for a 2011-12 season, but they'll have as good a chance as any out East -- even with the youngsters in Miami and Chicago making noise.
Was Garnett's level of control in the league-wide discussions regarding a potential 2007 trade for his services probably overstated in the Dan Patrick interview? No doubt.
Was a seething batch of enmity between Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant the reason K.G. didn't want to become a Laker that year? No way.
Would the Lakers have run to the heights they did prior to the Pau Gasol trade with Garnett in place of Bynum (13 and 10 with two blocks per game in just 29 minutes) and Odom (14 points and 10.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game)? Don't let anyone tell you that they would have with Kwame sopping up those minutes.
Did both Boston and Minnesota (acquiring cap space, and a 20-and-10 kid in Al Jefferson that sadly blew out his knee during a should-be All-Star season in 2008-09) make the best deal possible?
Were the machinations and eventual deals that followed the absolute best thing for everyone involved? Well, we got two Lakers-Celtics Finals out of it, with a potential rubber match possibly in the cards for 2012.
Safe to say we all made out well that summer.