Breaking Down the Kevin Garnett DealIf you follow the NBA at all then you probably already know that Kevin Garnett has been traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, a 2009 draft pick (top-three protected) and the return of a conditional draft pick originally obtained from Minnesota in the Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak deal. Minnesota is also receiving an undisclosed amount of cash. Apparently, Garnett has agreed to a three year contract extension that will keep him in Celtic green through the 2011-2012 season.
The point around here is not to "break" the story first with the same generic information that you can find at 1000 other websites but rather to break down the story and examine what it really means for Boston, Minnesota and Garnett, who is obviously the biggest name involved in the transaction.
Let's look at Minnesota first. The Timberwolves have missed the playoffs the past three years with Garnett and they figure to be even more lousy in the short term without him. After all, the players that they acquired from Boston could not make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference playing alongside Paul Pierce. Jefferson certainly looks like he can develop into an All-Star eventually, while Green and Gomes are young, solid players who are still improving. Minnesota also has Randy Foye, who had a good rookie season. Leading returning scorer Ricky Davis has seemingly been in the league forever but he is only 27 years old. Yes, Davis is a bit of a head case but if he does not get with the program he is talented enough that Minnesota can trade him and get good value in return. Those five players, plus the two draft picks, give Minnesota a decent chance to build a good team in the next two-three years--and that is certainly a much more appealing future than the alternatives, which involved either watching Garnett grow old while leading Minnesota nowhere or getting nothing in return if Garnett opted to leave when his contract expired. On the other hand, the Timberwolves might have been able to get a little more for Garnett had they pulled the trigger on a deal earlier.
The upside for Boston is pretty obvious; the Celtics now have three All-Stars, with Garnett joining Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Detroit is the only other Eastern Conference team that has that many All-Stars, though one could certainly argue that it is preferable to have the duo of Shaquille O'Neal/Dwyane Wade--when both are healthy--than to have either Boston or Detroit's collection of All-Stars. Boston is not particularly deep or talented once you get past the big three but if the Celtics cannot win at least 45 games with this team then something is seriously wrong. The real question is whether or not Boston is a serious contender for the Eastern Conference championship. In the wake of Cleveland's trip to the Finals last season, there is some overblown rhetoric that any halfway decent team can duplicate this feat. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it minimizes the impact that LeBron James had and ignores the fact that the Cavaliers have become an outstanding defensive team. James' all-around game creates all kinds of openings for his teammates, while at the same time he is capable of carrying the team all by himself for stretches, as he showed against Detroit in his amazing 48 point game five performance. Also, while the other Cavaliers are not big-name players they collectively play strong defense. Any team that hopes to duplicate Cleveland's march to the Finals will have to match that defensive intensity. It took two seasons for Coach Mike Brown to completely get his defensive system in place, so don't expect instant results in Boston. Also, while Garnett is a very good defender neither Allen nor Pierce are especially noted for their efforts at that end of the court--and if they don't bring it on defense then it will be hard to get the rest of the team to buy into a defensive philosophy, either. I would not expect this squad to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals this year. It is fashionable to make fun of the East, but Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, New Jersey and Toronto are all good teams, plus Washington should be back in the mix with the healthy return of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Orlando continues to improve. Don't forget that Allen, Garnett and Pierce all missed the playoffs last year, so putting them together on one team is not quite like putting Jordan, Pippen and Rodman together in 1995-96.
Kevin Garnett's career is now entering a make or break phase in terms of his legacy. Yes, his individual numbers have been very impressive and he has won many honors, including an MVP, but Garnett has never led a team anywhere in the postseason, save for one Western Conference Finals appearance. To this point, this failure has been excused because it has been said that he did not have a good enough supporting cast. Now he is playing alongside two legitimate All-Stars and has moved to the conference that is universally perceived to be weaker. Garnett will no longer have to battle with Tim Duncan's Spurs, Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks or Amare Stoudemire's Suns. If Garnett is as great as his advocates have always said that he is then he has to at least turn Boston into a legitimate Eastern Conference title contender in the next two or three seasons. Perhaps Garnett's biggest weakness has been an inability to take over games offensively down the stretch but that should not be a problem on this team because Pierce and Allen are able to fill that gap. All three stars will probably score fewer points than they did last season and it would not be shocking to see Garnett actually be the third option offensively, with the scoring distribution perhaps going like this: 22 ppg for Pierce, 20 ppg for Allen, 18-19 ppg for Garnett (assuming that all three players are healthy).
posted by David Friedman @ 7:03 PM