Wednesday , Jun , 27 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

The KG to LA Deal: What if it goes down?

The headline, “Garnett to be dealt to Lakers.”

And all of a sudden things gets hotter than a twenty dollar Rolex.

The KG to LA Deal: What if it goes down?

We’ve come to expect, and dare I say welcome, a good Kevin Garnett trade rumor every summer, so when this one hit the wire, I chalked it up as attempt number two-hundred and twelve to convince myself that Garnett was going anywhere but fishing during the summer months. The media orgy and speculation upon speculation aside, I think it’s safe to say what little facts we have already seem to point towards KG remaining exiled in that really cold place (all the good Minnesota jokes have been done). But regardless, the idea, the notion, of Garnett moving to Hollywood, and in the fat mother of all blockbusters, well, that demands someone ask the question. What if the deal goes down?

Again, I’m not getting ready to snag me a purple and gold with ‘Garnett’ across the back just yet, according to history and the functioning parts of your brain you shouldn’t be either, assuming you’re older than three and have parts of your brain that function. That being said, while no deal for KG has ever come close to being realized, I can safely say the situations and parties involved have never been this close to possible, and that alone deserves some attention.

I’ll admit being cynical about these things, but my own tendency to negativity aside, we’ve all got a few good reasons why the current incarnation of the four team deal between LA, Boston, Minnesota, and Indiana won’t work. For the record, this deal has shifted and flopped like a fat man sitting on a jello cube resting on a see-saw; for all I know by the time you read this the deal will have been rejected, countered, or modified in some way again. So be clear, the deal I’m specifically referring to is this one: LA gets Kevin Garnett, Minnesota gets Al Jefferson and the 5th pick in this upcoming draft (see Lance Walton for potential prospects), Boston gets Jermaine O’Neal, and Indiana gets Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

First, let’s look at what really started this whole player swapping wheel going: Kobe Bryant. The idea of trading Garnett, or O’Neal for that matter, has been thrown around plenty of times before, what makes it work now is that there are interested parties beyond the teams of the aforementioned players. Kobe wants out of LA, and for as much as I actually agree with his grievances, Lakers’ management would be nothing short of moronic for trading Bryant. That leaves them with few options, the best of which also being the most obvious – make him happy, or try to at least.

And that then leads me to ask, does acquiring Kevin Garnett make Kobe happy? It’s a question worth asking. It can’t be considered a sure thing. Sure, Garnett is a hall-of-fame player, a perennial all-star, but he is still only one player. Garnett makes the Lakers better, absolutely, but he leaves them one superstar closer to being a relevant contending basketball team, and still two or three or four role players away from that status. Whether people care to admit it now, in the midst of all the hype and rumors, all Garnett makes the Lakers is the Houston Rockets, a team with a phenomenal superstar duo and nobody else around them. Just because Garnett and Kobe will be on a deserted island together, doesn’t mean they aren’t still on an island.

More important than the reality of a Lakers team with Garnett, is Kobe Bryant’s perception of that reality. Because lately the gap between KB and the world as we know it has been looking wider than the gap between Greg Oden’s two front teeth. At this point trying to appease Kobe is like attempting to satisfy a three-year-old. He’s unstable, and making major long term moves to please an unstable individual, no matter how valuable to your organization, can turn out ugly. Now granted, I agree with Kobe in a lot of ways, while I may not be down with his erratic choice of expressing himself, generally he’s been right, the team does need to get better now and stop wasting the prime years of an all-time great player by ‘rebuilding’. But the mistake can’t be made by the Lakers and their fans in thinking one trade, no matter how big, is going to suffice for Kobe. It may hold him over shortly, and if you’re the Lakers you move like mad to make off good in the draft and sign a couple of decent free agents, but for all we know Kobe may just scoff at the Garnett deal, pout and whine and claim it’s still not enough – off to do another radio show or parking lot interview.

The second side to consider of this is the most major piece being moved, the title player of this article – Kevin Garnett. Kobe’s instability is a no-brainer, anyone claiming to know what Kobe is going to do or say next should be considered as crazy as he is. Garnett on the other hand, can’t automatically be considered an easily slid into place piece either. Stay with me here. Kevin Garnett has been with the T’Wolves for his entire career, and for all the turmoil, drama, and losing, I think he likes it there. The talk of him wanting to play for Phoenix didn’t start until it was made clear to him he was being shopped around and that he needed to seriously start looking at potential destinations he would be okay with, but he didn’t instigate any of this trade talk. Obviously he doesn’t enjoy the losing, and he wants to win, but as I said, LA doesn’t guarantee winning at a championship level, far from it. Garnett has grown up in Minnesota, he’s come to accept it as his place, and for lack of a better word, he’s simply comfortable there.

I’m sure KG doesn’t have any immediate and urgent objections to heading to the West coast, but he may have some reservations. In Minnesota, Garnett has grown accustom to having the ball go through him, and for however easy it is to say he doesn’t have a problem with that changing, we’re talking about a big difference on a basketball court that KG has never seen with consistency in his life, and that may prove difficult for him. It doesn’t have to be a selfish thing, and I don’t think it would be, but it is a basketball thing. Like anyone else Garnett plays off rhythm and routine, when you’ve gone your whole life and a decade plus pro career of being the man, you naturally develop a game contingent on that premise, that isn’t going to change just because you want to play nice with your new uber-star teammate.

It happens.

‘It’ happens – the deal goes down. Throw all my cynicism and reasons why not out the window (yours too if you’ve got any). For the sake of getting some answers, let’s assume the four way deal makes it through. What does that mean for each team?

First, the buzz goes through the roof. Los Angeles rejoices over the forming of its new superstar duo. In all likelihood the Lakers front office proceeds through the rest of the offseason with no additional significant moves and the talk of resurgence quiets some. The season starts all abuzz once more until people start realizing that Kobe could score eighty all by himself, and that Kobe sharing the ball with KG isn’t any more likely than him sharing it with Shaq or Odom or Bynum or anyone. The wins and losses start to even out by All-Star break and folks in Tinseltown begin to get a sick, shallow feeling in their stomachs, the cold uneasiness of which reminds them all too much of another mediocre .500 season.

CUT TO: the playoffs, first round. The Lakers advance, and for a brief moment, things look like they paid off. But what the trade didn’t do is alter the geography of the continental United States – this is still the West, and the road to anywhere that matters goes through San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix. LA gets ousted in the second round, probably in some sweep and KG is just another piece that doesn’t work well with Kobe, and vice versa for that matter.

Minnesota makes off sweet with Al Jefferson and a number five pick. They take a Spencer Hawes or Corey Brewer with that pick, adding a valuable piece around Jefferson. The fans lament the departure of KG, their long time hero, but eventually they awaken to the idea that they weren’t totally left without a future. Al starts playing big, showing flashes, and expectations grow. They don’t make the playoffs, but they’re better than people expect in the first season in eleven years without KG. The future, for the first time in a long time, looks bright in Minnesota.

The other All-Star, and one time MVP candidate, Jermaine O’Neal quietly gets shipped off to Boston, essentially getting exiled and finishing the ultimate demise of his former club since that fateful night at the Palace in what seems like so many years ago. Celtics fans will, predictably, bitch and complain that they didn’t get KG, or at least a couple of extra pieces, in exchange for Jefferson, even though those same fans were shouting at management to make any deal for a marquee player so long as Paul Pierce wasn’t dealt.

JO will do virtually the same things in Boston that he did in Indiana. The Celtics will see an improvement, and unless the number five picks blows up big somewhere else, they’ll never really know or consider what they gave up. All it takes in the Atlantic is a near .500 record to get that top division spot and secure a playoff bid, and who knows, if Pierce and O’Neal stay healthy, maybe they get it. Regardless, Boston doesn’t go anywhere significant, even with JO in green.

Somebody has to get screwed over, intentionally or otherwise, in every multi-team, blockbuster trade, and this time it would be Indiana. Every other team would get a major, go-to piece, all the Pacers get is the fragile Odom and the one stamped with potential called Bynum. I like Odom, I really do, but he’s not fair value when you lose Jermaine O’Neal. And while the prospects of Bynum are impressive, that’s all they are, prospects and nothing more. This deal would officially usher in the dark ages in Indiana and begin a long ugly process of trying to reemerge, hopefully better.

What if…?

I’ve played out the reasons why not, and the scenarios (at least one for each team), but that’s just my take. I can’t say for sure any of this will break one way or another. Hit the comment box and drop your own logic on the situation, because honestly, this looks like it could go fifty different ways, my scenarios just make sense to me.

Only, in all this, there’s one thing I haven’t done – consider the opposite. Considering why something shouldn’t happen is not the same as considering what would happen if it actually didn’t. Think about that.

The deal dies in whichever of many different ways NBA trades get butchered these days. Pick one. The point is, this is the only deal that could come close to sufficing Kobe’s pleas for help, in terms of one single deal. And while rumors will persist all summer if this doesn’t happen, I doubt anything this plausible will come along again. We could see Kobe stew all summer and into the season, most likely continuing to demand trades, for him or somebody else. While this is all good and entertaining to you and me, it can only worsen to an unreasonable point for the Lakers.

What about Minnesota? This is the best deal for KG they’ve seen in years. If they don’t deal Garnett now, he most likely stays with the T’Wolves for the rest of his career, and as much as I hate to say it, Minnesota stays wallowing in mediocrity or worse for the next six or seven years.

Bostons will see the window close on Paul Pierce only to see it open for Al Jefferson. The problem: the window only leads to the same problems and frustrations Pierce dealt with.

And the Pacers, well they’re in trouble either way.

This trade may not help these teams in the way, or to the degree that they expect or need, but despite the glaring flaws in this deal from all angles, it’s the best thing most of these teams have seen in some time. The management for all these teams are under growing pressure to do something, anything, that brings improvement. They all need to get better, or at least start the long road to getting better, and this is the best shot for all of them. This isn’t a great deal, and one that I fully acknowledge is still unlikely, but as far as ‘unlikely’ moves go, these teams could use one of those. They need to make a move.

The real question isn’t what if the deal goes down.

The real question is: what if the deal doesn’t go down?