On June 17, 2008, after posting a 26-point, 14-rebound stat line in a dominant Game 6 victory over the Lakers, Kevin Garnett reacted to winning the NBA Finals with one of the most memorable exclamations in recent sports history.
“Anything is possible!”
It must have seemed that way to KG at the time. He had recently been traded in an offseason blockbuster from the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that had just recorded 33 and 32 wins in two consecutive seasons, where his supporting cast had consisted of Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Randy Foye and other names that didn’t do much to excite.
The same feeling must have rung true for the Celtics as well, considering that Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson and rookie Rajon Rondo had only been able to muster up a 24-win 2006-07 season. Going from 24 wins to 66 wins in just one season is a true representation of the fact that anything is possible.
But was the idea of Garnett spending the second part of his career with an organization other than Boston possible?
According to what Garnett’s agent Andy Miller shared with ESPN at the time of initial trade talks, a Boston trade simply wasn’t going to happen because Garnett wasn’t interested in playing for the organization. In fact, the team had looked to pull in Garnett earlier on, but talks stalled after the star big man’s “well-chronicled refusal” to suit up in Boston. Obviously, it did end up going that way in the 2007 offseason. Again, anything is possible.
The Celtics weren’t the first or even the primary trade option listed at the time, though. Instead, the Suns were a team listed as a potential partner after they had just completed a 61-21 campaign, headed by the efforts of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire. Garnett had a friendly relationship with Nash, and Phoenix provided the combination of warm weather and “legitimate championship potential” that Garnett was reportedly seeking.
The Suns, however, did not want to part ways with the up-and-coming Stoudemire, who had just turned in a magnificent season at age 24, made all the more impressive by the fact that he had just returned from significant surgery. Marion’s contract was also about to expire, meaning it wouldn’t do much for him or the Timberwolves knowing he’d want to test free agency after one season. Additionally, Marc Stein wrote that the T-Wolves naturally wanted to move Garnett out of the conference as a result of a trade, which wouldn’t have been accomplished by negotiating with the Suns.
Anything is possible, of course, but there were just too many roadblocks to overcome in this deal.
Perhaps the most intriguing possibility, however, was that Kevin Garnett played for the very team that he famously beat a year later before shouting his oft-quoted victory phrase.
The Lakers had been a powerhouse in the West since the late 90s, headlined by the unstoppable duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. From 1996 to 2004, the Lake Show dominated the NBA, securing titles in “three-peat” fashion from 2000 to 2002.
Tension that had grown between Kobe and Shaq began to become public throughout the 2003-04 season, however, and the team quickly began to fall apart after a loss to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals. Phil Jackson’s contract was not renewed, Shaq was traded away to the Heat for a slew of assets and the Lakers finally began to dwindle into mediocrity. From 2005 to 2007, the team’s winning percentage was below .500 and they never made it out of the first round of the playoffs.
It was during this stretch of disappointing seasons that Kevin Garnett trade speculation began to swirl around the franchise. Kobe Bryant’s otherworldly talent was not leading to much success, perhaps due to the fact that there wasn't a proven big man that could support his play style, as Shaq had done for years. Bringing in Kwame Brown was one attempt to solve this problem, but the 2001 first overall pick’s career as a massive draft bust continued as an ineffective starter with Los Angeles.
Phil Jackson, who had been rehired by the Lakers just a year after the team decided to let him walk, said that Garnett could have been that guy. In an oral history of Garnett’s career put together by Bleacher Report, Jackson said that he “put a big push” on attempting to acquire Garnett once his availability became known. The Timberwolves owner, Glen Taylor -- who has recently been in the news due to a highly publicized feud with Garnett -- said in the same oral history that the Lakers had “really wanted him” and that the potential trade package included Lamar Odom and promising center Andrew Bynum.
The most frustrating, so-close-yet-so-far glimpse at the likelihood of such a deal comes once again from Phil Jackson, who shared that former Lakers owner Jerry Buss said he had a “handshake agreement” with Taylor at the time, making the trade seem all but agreed upon. However, it was Timberwolves GM and former Celtics great Kevin McHale who apparently stalled talks in search of a deal with the Celtics. He was more interested in the young offensive star in Boston, Al Jefferson, than in anyone else.
All of this and more, once again, is available in the fantastic Bleacher Report oral history of Garnett’s career.
A core of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant would have undoubtedly propelled the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference for years to come. Garnett’s defensive prowess, passing ability and devastating scoring chops from all over the court would have complemented Kobe’s mamba mentality, creating a dynamic duo of two of the most intense players in the league. Now both enshrined in the Hall of Fame as the headliners of the 2020 Class (along with Tim Duncan), either Garnett’s Celtics and Bryant’s Lakers went on to win the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010, two of which were played against each other.
Pairing the two all-time greats very well could have manifested in three rings apiece for both of them and the potential for much more. But would the same feud that had prevented Kobe and Shaq from staying together and finding long-term success afflict a duo of the Black Mamba and KG?
The two had played together in the All-Star Game before, which clearly doesn’t represent how they’d work together in a realistic NBA scenario, but had seen success in such outings as starters and had grown familiar with each other. Garnett told fellow NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson that he and Kobe “had a different connect” and that he “wanted to link with Kobe” in the 2007 offseason, but that he “couldn’t get him on the line (via All The Smoke).
But the deal never came to fruition. Garnett was dealt to the Celtics for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two 2009 1st round draft picks (Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn were later selected). It was quite a package that clearly paid big dividends for the Celtics and ended up causing a period of subpar basketball in Minnesota. Neither draft pick hit, Al Jefferson was solid but only stayed for a few years and the Timberwolves posted a losing record for 10 straight seasons before finally returning to the playoffs in the 2017-18 season.
All we can do now is look back and wonder if that duo could have dominated the league from 2008 and onward. The Celtics were only able to win one title with the star-studded lineup of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen (another player who the Celtics traded for in the 2007 offseason). Bryant and the Lakers, on the other hand, won back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, but failed to make it to the finals beyond those seasons. Pau Gasol was that aforementioned big man that provided Kobe with support in so many ways, and the team benefitted greatly from bringing him in halfway through the 2007-08 season.
You can't help but wonder, though. Had Bryant returned Garnett’s calls, had McHale taken the Odom and Bynum bait, had the “handshake deal” become official, one can only wonder how the entire league would have changed. The foursome of Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett is so emblazoned in NBA history that any other alternative would seem impossible. The same goes for Bryant and Pau Gasol’s stretch of dominance for the late 2000s Lakers.
As Garnett reminds us in nearly every NBA highlight reel, though, anything is possible, and you’d have to think that three rings, five rings or even more rings would have been possible given the pairing of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.