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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Breaking Down the Kevin Garnett Deal

If 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

17 comments

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17 Comments:

At Tuesday, July 31, 2007 10:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This will indeed be interesting to watch. I'd really been hoping for a scenario like this, so that we can see what KG can do in other circumstances. Hollinger has claimed that the Celtics are basically just a glorified Wizards team now, and I see where's he coming from given their utter lack of depth or (beyond KG) defense. But even so, if KG can't get to the Eastern Conference Finals with this team -- in fact, I'd say to the finals -- his supporters (and I am one) will have to concede that his statistical dominance has been vastly misleading.

(You're right of course to say that the Cavs' defense has been ignored, and they're a better team than most have given them credit for. But if KG is a top 3-ish NBA player now, he should lead this team to the finals, warts and all, especially assuming Ainge puts a couple more veteran role players in place. If he's just a top ten-ish player, he won't do that.)

One thing I'd been hoping you'd comment on was an earlier post you wrote, when KG nixed the first Boston trade. I believe you titled the post something like "Kevin Garnett doesn't believe he and Paul Pierce can get past LeBron." (I'm sure that's slightly off, but that was the gist of it if I'm not mistaken.) You then questioned KG's commitment to winning in the blog post itself.

I thought that post was extraordinarily unfair to KG, and bordering on silly -- a significant departure from your usual posts. I very much doubt KG thinks a whole lot about LeBron, and I very much doubt his primary goal is to *get* to the finals -- it's to win. The Celtics as constituted at the time had no chance to win a championship. Far more important, there was still some chance that KG might have gotten himself traded to Phoenix (or perhaps Chicago). Of course he nixed the trade. Now those options are gone, and the Celtics look better primed for a short run (though they still can't be considered to be serious championship contenders, unless KG turns out to secretly be the best player in the NBA -- and no, I don't really think he is, but I'm very excited by the remote possibility.)

Anyway, from everything I've ever read about KG, he's been a relentless competitor throughout his career. Whatever you may think of him as a player -- and the jury is admittedly out on that -- I think you misjudged his character and circumstances in that post. Care to comment?

-Don

 
At Tuesday, July 31, 2007 11:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I definitely don't think that KG is a "top 3-ish" player and I agree with you that this deal will provide an excellent opportunity to prove or disprove that, barring injury to one of the three key Celtics.

I think that you object to the title of the June 22 post that you referenced--"Kevin Garnett Does Not Think That He and Paul Pierce Can Outduel LeBron James"--more than what I actually wrote in the post itself, which was that KG and Pierce together would make Boston an Eastern Conference contender and that the path to the Finals would probably be easier in the East than in the West. I added that maybe KG and his agent knew something that the rest of us didn't and that KG was holding out for a better deal but I questioned why he would not want to leave a Western doormat to play in the East with Pierce. I concluded that perhaps KG was content to stay in Minn., collect his huge paycheck while staying off the national radar and then become a free agent. I don't think that any of those questions or comments are unfair to KG; apparently the addition of Ray Allen to the mix makes KG believe that now Boston has enough to contend--or else all of KG's other potential opportunities (Phx, Chi, etc) dried up.

You say that the Celtics as constituted at the time of the first proposed Bos.-Minn. deal had no chance to win a title. Why would that be true if KG is really a top-3 player? Shouldn't a top-3 player plus an All-Star like Pierce be enough to win the East? If you can get to the Finals, then you have a shot to win a championship.

Many people seem to believe (1) that KG is a great player and (2) that a team with two legit All-Stars can make a run at the Eastern Finals. So the title of my post was kind of a tongue-in-cheek stab at those theories. I don't think that KG is as great as some of his advocates do and I don't think that any team with two or three All-Stars is just going to waltz all over the East. J-Kidd, Carter and R. Jeff are three pretty good players and I didn't see them in the Eastern Finals. The East is better than a lot of people are saying--but, as you suggest, if KG is as good as so many people think, then that should not matter, because if he is truly an MVP level player then Boston should be the best team in the East, because no team in the East has an MVP level player and two All-Stars.

None of the three Celtics All-Stars has a history of great playoff success, so while I do believe that Boston will be much improved and I agree that Boston should be an Eastern contender I also suspect that this trio will ultimately not quite live up to the highest expectations that are being placed upon it.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 6:20:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I see many regular season wins. I don't see how they are going to stop any of the plethora of perimeter scorers that roam the NBA. I agree that people forget how Detroit and Cleveland made it to the Conference Finals based on defense and balanced rosters that could cover different areas of the game.

Boston will not have the money to get a good supporting cast, and their stars although undoubtedly very talented have a history of playoff failures that can't be just a coincidence.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 7:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Exactly. People seem to have forgotten that the Cavs beat a New Jersey team that had a pretty potent trio and then defeated a Detroit team that has been at or near the top of the East for several seasons. The Cavs had a very good season that is apparently now being somewhat overlooked in light of how the Spurs swept them in the Finals--but the Spurs are a legit dynasty and the Cavs were very competitive in both games in Cleveland.

If Cleveland and Boston meet in the playoffs, KG is not going to go wild against Gooden/Varejao and carry Boston past Cleveland by himself. LeBron is more than a match for Pierce and if Pavlovic can check Vince Carter reasonably well then I don't think that he is ill equipped to guard Ray Allen. Meanwhile, who on Boston is covering Z or dealing with the fact that Cleveland is an excellent rebounding team? Cleveland and Boston may end up with a similar amount of regular season wins--though I expect Cleveland to have a better record than Boston--but I would pick Cleveland over Boston in a playoff series right now. I say right now because we don't know how Ainge will fill out Boston's roster--though his options are limited by how much salary cap space the big three are taking up--and we of course also don't know who will be healthy on either squad come April/May.

ESPN's Kiki Vandeweghe said that Boston is now a threat not just to win the East but to win the whole thing. Maybe he is trying to grossly inflate expectations so Ainge will get fired and he can be an NBA GM again. I don't think that it is certain that Boston is a top four team in the East, let alone a championship contender. The Spurs, Mavs and Phoenix are still clearly better than Boston. Utah and Houston are probably better, too. In the East, I just explained why I'd take Cleveland over Boston; I'd also take Chicago and Detroit, plus Miami provided that Shaq and D Wade are healthy. Boston's new big three is not a Big Three like Wilt-West-Baylor or MJ-Pip-Rodman or Bird-McHale-Parish.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 9:37:00 AM, Blogger jmo21 said...

best analysis i've read so far on the trade! nice one David.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 11:10:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

I will give Doc Rivers the benefit of the doubt, but in the short term much rests with him. Another feature of playoff successful teams is that they know what the gameplan is supposed to be, they know how they are going to try and win. They have a good plan and theyy have faith in it to keep trying when things get tough.

Will Doc Rivers be able to provide that kind of leadership?

Will Danny Ainge be able to resist the pressure of the luxury tax nad keep to a signle franchise approach for more than 18 months?

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 4:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Thanks, JMO21.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 4:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JN:

This will either be a good test of Doc Rivers' ability as a coach or an opportunity to make him the scapegoat, depending on how well Boston does and how well one expects Boston to perform. If he is expected to win three championships with this group--like Bird-McHale-Parish or MJ-Pip-Rodman did--then Rivers will certainly be judged to be a failure.

Keep in mind that Boston went 24-58 last year and that none of their three All-Stars was able to guide a team to even an eighth seed by himself in '07--and KG has missed the playoffs for three straight years. A reasonable expectation for Boston this year, as I indicated in the post, is to win at least 45 games, fight for one of the top four spots in the East and advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. Obviously, subsequent deals made by Boston and/or other teams and the ever present threat of injuries could cause me to alter this sentiment by the time that I write my preseason preview but that is my take as things stand now.

 
At Wednesday, August 01, 2007 10:16:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

The Cavs do play very good defense, but their offense is very predictable, and just plain bad. I think the East is tougher than some people are making it out to be, but I still think it is substantially easier to come out of the East than the West. I think the fact that an aging Detroit team playing with a very uninspired attitude made it to the conference finals highlights that.

You're right that Pierce and Allen aren't noted defenders, but neither are Lebron James and Drew Gooden, and the Cavs still play very good D. I think that if the Celtics have the right defensive game plan, their team defense can cover up for the shortcomings of Pierce and Allen. Having a big guy who can protect the rim and play screen/rolls well in Garnett will help. Additionally, Rajon Rondo is supposed to be a very good defender. I think the pressure is on Doc Rivers to come up with the right gameplan.

I'm not sure if the Nets provide a good comparison. The Nets "Big 3" consists entirely of perimeter players, Jefferson has never made an All-Star team, and Carter has an even shakier reputation than Garnett when it comes to producing when it matters.

It's true that none of the Celtics stars have great track records of leading teams very far. Like you, I'm rather skeptical of Garnett's status as a top-5 player due to his teams almost always missing the playoffs or losing in the first round.

Still, Pierce led a Celtics team with Antoine Walker and little else to the ECF in 2002. Allen led the Bucks to within one game of the Finals in 2001, and an overachieving Sonics team to a 52-win season in 2005. Garnett got the Wolves to the WCF when he had a decent supporting cast, and if Sam Cassell wasn't hurt they may have gone further. That's far from consistency, true. But it leaves room for intrigue, and makes me want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Given all the losing these guys have endured, and the chips on their shoulders (especially Garnett and Pierce), I expect them to do all they can to prove everyone wrong. The Celtics lack depth, but if these guys are all really franchise players (and they are getting paid like they are), they should lead the team to the finals. All they should need is for Ainge to sign a cheap veteran or two, and for their supporting cast to play energetic defense and hit some open shots.

In any case, I'm very happy the trade happened. I'm not a Celtics fan, but as an NBA fan, it's good to see the Celtics finally return to relevance. I'm also happy that now Garnett's career won't end with a bunch of "what if's", and we'll get to find out just how good he really is.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 2:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Coach Brown's stated philosophy has been to implement his defensive game plan first and then to improve the team's offensive execution. I interviewed Cavs assistant coach Hank Egan early in Brown's tenure with the team and Egan told me that it takes a whole season and then well into the second season to teach a team a new defensive system. The Cavs made it to the Finals in that second season and I expect that their offense will look better this year and beyond. Championship teams, in almost any sport, are built defense first.

I agree that it is easier to come out of the East and have stated that several times. However, I don't think that it is as easy to come out of the East as some people seem to think. LeBron is a very special player and the Cavs are a very good defensive team. Contrary to popular belief, "anybody" is not capable of coming out of the East, this year or any other year. It will take a well coached team that plays good defense and is led by a great player (or several very good players). I'm not saying that you are asserting that "anybody" can come out of the East, but just restating my position on this issue.

LeBron is not a great defender but he is a young and improving defender. The Cavs felt comfortable enough to put him on Billups in the playoffs in key situations. He obviously has the physical tools to be a good defender and he seems to have the desire to improve at that end of the court; LeBron has made great strides defensively since he came into the league. Allen and Pierce have been around much longer than LeBron and are average defenders at best, a situation that is not likely to change.

You are right that it is up to Doc Rivers to come up with a defensive game plan that accentuates KG's skills at that end of the court and "hides" Allen and Pierce to some degree--along with finding appropriate roles for the other players on the team. Note, as I mentioned, that it took the Cavs about two seasons to get this together at a championship (or, near championship, to be precise) level.

My point in bringing up the Nets is that the East is not as weak as some people assert. If it were, then a team led by All-Stars Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, with Richard Jefferson as the third wheel, would have done better in the playoffs. In theory, as you suggest, Boston's big three should be better because the Celtics have a legit inside player in their trio. That's the theory and we will have 82 games plus the playoffs to see how it all sorts out in practice.

I agree with you and everyone else who has suggested that it will be very interesting to see how this all works out.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 7:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

You mentioned that Carter has "an even shakier reputation than Garnett when it comes to producing when it matters." I agree that Carter's reputation is "shaky" in this regard but one could question if Carter's poor reputation is entirely deserved.

Carter has made five trips to the playoffs in nine seasons (Garnett is eight for 12). Carter's scoring, rebounding and assists averages all go up in the playoffs (24.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg in the regular season; 25.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.2 apg in the playoffs) and in three of his five postseason trips his team has advanced past the first round. Carter does not have the best postseason resume among NBA All-Stars but it's not the worst, either.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 4:57:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

You're right. It's a stretch to say that Carter's reputation is certainly shakier than KG's. I guess in the back of my mind I was factoring in Carter's comments on how he didn't always try his best on the Raptors. Still, it should be noted that 3 of Carter's playoff appearances (and 2 of his advances past the first round) came on a Nets team which had already done a lot of winning before he joined it. If KG was playing with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, maybe he'd have a bit more playoff success.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 6:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Carter's comment was unfortunate and I doubt that he meant it exactly the way that it came out. What he was probably trying to say is that the conditions surrounding him in Toronto were not optimal and this affected the quality of his work (or something like that). I don't believe that he actually did not try hard, because most people who work hard enough to get to the NBA in the first place are so competitive that they are always going to try hard.

You are of course correct that playing on a Nets team that has had some playoff success and playing alongside Jason Kidd have both been helpful to Carter. I agree that KG would have benefited from those things as well. Still, the bottom line is that Carter has been productive during his playoff appearances.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 7:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

with these 3 guys there the best in the east. and have a chance to win the ring this year. to have 3 players like this is great for boston and they probably will win 60 gmaes or so.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 3:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't think that Boston is the best team in the East for three reasons:

1) The Celtics have little depth once you get past the big three.

2) Teams like Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Miami will have better chemistry because their rosters have been together longer.

3) It remains to be seen how good Boston will be defensively.

 
At Saturday, August 18, 2007 3:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BOSTON WILL EASILY WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM THIS YEAR. I HATE TO SAY IT (BUCKS FAN)....... BUT THEY HAVE 3 A+ STAR PLAYERS. THESE ARE 3 GUYS THAT ARE NOT "ME" GUYS, AND HAVE ALL BEEN TOP 10 FOR MVP (KG WON IT), ALL 3 HAVE LED TEAMS TO 50+ WINS, DIVISION TITLES, AND TOOK TEAMS TO CONFERENCE FINALS. THATS ALL THEMSELVES, NOW THEYRE ALLTOGETHER. THAT IS EASILY THE BEST TRIO IN THE LEAGUE AND THEIR 1 AND 5 ARE GREAT ON DEFENSE AND GOOD FOR THEIR ROLES AROUND THE BIG 3......... THESE 3 ARE ALL FIERCELY LOYAL HIGH CHARACTER GUYS, ALL UNSELFISH SUPERSTAR FRANCHISE PLAYERS THAT PLAY THE RIGHT WAY, ARE TEAM PLAYERS, LEAVE IT ALL ON THE FLOOR, LOVE THE GAME, VETERANS IN THEIR PRIME THAT ARE HUNGRIER THAN EVER FOR A RING AND COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER BEUATIFULLY WITH THEIR GAMES.......... I HATE TO SAY IT BUT BOSTON SHOULD EASILY BE A SPECIAL TEAM FOR THE NEXT 5 OR SO YEARS AND EASILY WIN AT LEAST 2 OF THE NEXT 5 CHAMPIONSHIPS. THIS ISNT JUST 3 BORDERLINE ALLSTARS, THEY GOT AN MVP BIG MAN AND TWO SUPERSTARS AT THE 2 AND 3 THAT ARE BOTH GREAT PLAYERS......... ALL 3 ARE ALL-NBA SUPERSTAR PLAYERS, THEYRE ALL CLUTCH, ALL JUST AMAZING HONESTLY. THEY ARE NO JOKE. EASILY THE BEST TRIO IN THE LEAGUE AND ITS NOT EVEN CLOSE. THESE ARE 3 TOP DOGS. ALL 3 IN THE NBA PLAYER RANKINGS ARE RANKED IN THE TOP 15 OVERALL PLAYERS IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE! RAY WAS RANKED 14TH AND THE 3RD RANKED SG, PAUL WAS RANKED 13TH AND 3RD RANKED SF, AND KEVIN RANKED 5TH AND 2ND RANKED PF....... THEY HAVE ALL BEEN TOP DOG ON CONFERENCE FINAL POWERHOUSE TEAMS............ I HATE THE CELTICS BUT THOSE ARE 3 A+ SUPERSTARS. THEY GOT THE BIGMAN KG ALLAROUND PLAYER, THEY GOT RAY ALLEN ON PERIMITER DOING HIS THING ALLAROUND, AND PIERCE DOING HIS THING ALLAROUND..... THIS IS KEVIN GARNETT RAY ALLEN AND PAUL PIERCE. NONE OF EM HAVE EVER HAD TALENT LIKE THIS TO WORK WITH, THEY ARE GONNA RUN THRU THE NBA EASILY. THATS A SERIOUS BIG 3, 3 TOP DOGS ALLTOGETHER. ITS AMAZING.

 
At Saturday, August 18, 2007 5:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I appreciate your enthusiasm, but the all-caps comment can be interpreted by some readers as shouting.

You are correct that each member of Boston's Big Three has racked up some impressive individual achievements and that they each have been on playoff teams that made deep runs. The flip side to that is that each one of these guys missed the playoffs altogether last year, although injuries were a factor for Allen and Pierce. "Superstar" is an overused term in my opinion. Every year there are 24 All-Stars (plus some guys who make the squad as injury replacements) and 15 players who make the All-NBA First, Second or Third Teams. I definitely do not believe that being an All-Star means that a player is a "superstar" and I don't even think that being an All-NBA Third Team player makes you a "superstar" (I had a discussion here a while back regarding Carmelo Anthony and whether or not he is a "superstar"; I vote no). KG is a former MVP and one could make a case that he has played at a "superstar" level, although he disappears a bit too much late in games for my taste--but it is really a reach to call Allen and Pierce "superstars."

I'm not convinced that they are the best trio in the NBA--what about Duncan, Ginobili and Parker or Nash, Amare and Marion, to name just two excellent trios?

Plus, you have to consider the three points I made in my earlier comment: Boston has little depth, the Celtics' chemistry will not be as good as that of teams that have been together longer and Boston's team defense is a question mark at this point.

I will be shocked if Boston wins this year's championship "easily" (which I would define as 60+ regular season wins, number one seed in the East, 16-6 or better in the playoffs). I don't think that Boston has a five year window, either; I'd put it at a three year window.

As the cliche goes, though, that is why they play the games. Next June, we can revisit this subject again and see whose predictions are closer to the mark.

 

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