When the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in 2007, it changed the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics won the 2008 title immediately after acquiring Garnett and Ray Allen, and made the Finals again two years later. The Big Three of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce was the NBA’s defining superteam until LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami in 2010.
But Garnett was almost a Laker. According to Phil Jackson in a new oral history of Garnett’s career by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck (which is worth reading in its entirety), the Lakers had a deal lined up for Garnett centered around Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, before Minnesota ultimately went with Boston’s package.
Here’s the account of the almost-trade from Jackson, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and Garnett’s agent, Andy Miller:
The Lakers offered a package built around multi-skilled forward Lamar Odom and 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum, a promising second-year player who would eventually become an All-Star. Odom had a history of flaky behavior, however, and Bynum was unproven.
The Celtics’ package was built around another talented, but still-developing young center, Al Jefferson, along with several other young players and draft picks.
Phil Jackson: 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: Odom, I was a little afraid of. I thought Bynum was gonna be a star.
Andy Miller: 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.
Glen Taylor: It became the Lakers, and it became Boston. And they both said, what does [Garnett] want to get paid? And I told them what he wants to get paid. I told them the kind of contract. And those two teams said they would do it.
The package from the Celtics that ended up netting Garnett involved Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and a future first-round pick. The Lakers’ package of Odom and Bynum probably had more short-term upside — Odom won Sixth Man of the Year in 2011 and Bynum was an All-Star the following year. But both have since flamed out of the league.
More than anything, this is a fascinating what-if, because Garnett going to the Lakers changes a lot of things. If the Celtics’ Big Three never happens, maybe the Cavs or Magic get another couple of Finals appearances. The Lakers wouldn’t have traded for Pau Gasol if they’d had Garnett, either, which means the Grizzlies wouldn’t have wound up with his brother Marc, and that franchise’s fortunes could have been vastly different. This just goes to show how one domino can have a lasting effect on the entire league.