Nine years ago around this time, the Boston Celtics were on the verge of acquiring Kevin Garnett, but the public didn’t know it. After weeks of speculation prior to and after the 2007 NBA Draft, the rumors had fizzled in Boston. The focus was on other matters like the Tim Donaghy betting scandal, Michael Wilbon’s comments about Boston being a racist city, and Doc Rivers’s thoughts on fans overrating Al Jefferson. There was even a 12-day stretch without any mainstream KG-to-Boston news. That was until the morning of Monday, July 30, when an avalanche of reports indicated a deal was imminent.
In 2007, the June noise revealed Garnett trade talks were real, but the July silence was the true indicator negotiations had actually gotten serious.
This is a common trend in many of the league’s blockbuster trades, where what appears to be nothing turns into something. Consider what Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote: "Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."
So let’s consider the present. Earlier this month, a flurry of rumors suggested the Celtics were in pursuit of Russell Westbrook and/or Blake Griffin, but things have rapidly been hushed over the past week. Many fans already consider the summer over, especially after the Celtics agreed to sign four players last Saturday—though those deals still aren’t official.
But if history is any indication, it’s at least plausible that teams have entered the same stage the Celtics and Wolves did in 2007. It doesn’t mean the Celtics are in talks for those players, but it’s possible. It’s also possible the Thunder have entered an elevated stage of renegotiate-and-extend talks with Westbrook. Or another team, like the Lakers, are in pursuit of Westbrook.
There is plenty that can be learned from the past though, so let’s take a deep look back at the timeline of events in 2007.
It was April/May 2007 that rumors first started suggesting the Wolves would shop Garnett. At the time, the Lakers were considered the most likely destination. The Celtics weren’t even on the (public) radar; they had high hopes of winning the draft lottery to select Kevin Durant or Greg Oden. But they ended up losing out and got the fifth pick. So on May 29, DraftExpress reported the Celtics were shopping the fifth pick, with Portland’s Zach Randolph as a target. Then on June 2, the Boston Herald said Seattle’s Rashard Lewis was also a target, and on June 10 ESPN said Phoenix’s Shawn Marion was too.
During this time, Garnett rumors were a hot topic, but it wasn’t until June 18 the Celtics were actually linked to KG.
“From what I'm hearing—and at this point it's just a hot rumor—the Wolves and Boston Celtics talking about a Garnett deal,” ESPN’s Chad Ford reported at the time. “In this scenario, Boston would send Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and change to Minnesota along with the No. 5 pick in the upcoming draft. In exchange, the Celtics would get Garnett.”
That’s pretty similar to the deal that ended up happening, but it took awhile to get there. The next day, on June 19, in an interesting move Ainge confirmed publicly he spoke to the Wolves about Garnett to the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy. Two days later, on June 21, a source told the Herald’s Steve Bulpett “the Celtics were moving closer to a deal” for KG.
However, the next two days there were various snags in their negotiations. Hoops World reported on June 22 that the Wolves insisted on including a salary dump in Marko Jaric. Bulpett reported the same day, “The prospects for getting things completed didn’t look all that great as of tonight, but these things do have a way of reanimating in a hurry.”
On June 23, though, any hope of the Celtics acquiring Garnett was destroyed. KG’s agent, Andy Miller, told ESPN, "The Boston trade isn't happening. If a trade were to happen, that's not a destination that we're interested in pursuing."
Except, the deal wasn’t quite dead, according to the Herald’s Bulpett, who wrote on June 25, “Despite reports to the contrary, sources confirmed last night there is still life to a Celtics deal for Kevin Garnett. It was also stated strongly that the club would never make such a move before it had an agreement with the Timberwolves star on a contract extension.”
Sounds a lot like what we’ve been reading the past two weeks, both from the Herald and my own report last week, regarding the contract situations of Westbrook and/or Griffin. Garnett’s situation is quite different than Westbrook/Griffin, but there is still a cause for any delay: the Celtics won’t dance unless the player makes a commitment.
Over the next few days leading up to the 2007 draft, the Celtics were pretty much out of any public reports for Garnett. On June 26, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Paul Pierce “finally told team management that unless the Celtics come out of this week with a talented veteran co-star for him, they should expect him to make a public declaration soon after Thursday's draft that he wants a trade."
A June 26 LA Times report said the Celtics were part of a four-team blockbuster trade that would’ve sent Garnett to the Lakers, but the talks died and the Lakers were out. A June 27 ESPN report indicated Garnett-to-Phoenix looked “more likely than ever before.” However, as part of the reported deal, Marion was reluctant to play for the Celtics, which apparently killed discussions. On June 28, the morning of the draft, the Mercury News suggested the Warriors were potential leaders for Garnett.
Everything changed on draft night when the Celtics acquired Ray Allen in exchange for the fifth pick and other assets, and Garnett was still with the Wolves. So the door was still open for the Celtics to make another push.
"I think that we'll be able to do a couple of things,” Ainge told media after the Allen trade, “at least one or two more things, before the summer's over."
One week later, on July 6, Ainge was quoted in the Boston Herald saying, "We’re obviously not done with our roster yet.” And though it seemed like the Celtics were out of the Garnett sweepstakes at that point, Bulpett added, “And as crazy as it may seem, the Celts may still be leaving the porch light on for Kevin Garnett. There appears to be no chance Ainge will sleep until he sees the Timberwolves star in another uniform.”
Ainge was also quoted July 6 by the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “There's a chance [of another big-name player coming in], but I don't want to get people's hopes up. We're not sitting there relying on it. We're still trying to work some things out but we think we have a good team right now.”
So even after making one big move by trading for Allen, the Celtics made it clear in early July 2007 they “weren’t done,” just like they did this year after signing Al Horford. At least you know they’re trying.
July 6 was also the start of the Las Vegas Summer League, a pivotal time and place for negotiations. We just didn’t know it at the time. But, according to the Boston Globe’s Shira Springer, that’s where ”Minnesota and Boston resurrected discussions about Garnett. Miller first approached McHale, and then Ainge, to make it clear Garnett was open to a trade.”
Things started to get quiet though because the public still thought Garnett wanted to stay in Minnesota.
In reality, a lot was happening behind the scenes during the Summer League. According to Springer, Garnett “sought the counsel of his best friends,” Chauncey Billups and Tyronn Lue. "Chauncey came out and said, 'You have to take the best thing for you and that's playing in Boston,’” Lue told the Globe. “We definitely convinced him to choose Boston because two great players were already in place.”
Publicly, not much was reported during this time. On July 16 the Herald’s Bulpett wrote that the Celtics got “cold feet” dealing Jefferson to Minnesota, since the public reacted negatively to the initial reports in late June. Bulpett also added this key point: “There have been some quiet denials, but one source close to the situation insists the deal for Kevin Garnett was all set before agent Andy Miller said his client didn’t want to go to Boston.”
The public takeaway was largely that the Celtics weren’t exactly out, but they weren’t in either. At this point, it didn’t seem many teams were in, either. So it was hard to gauge what was actually happening.
But then those hopes were dashed when later that day on July 16 Wolves owner Glen Taylor told the media that Garnett still didn’t want to be dealt. "I talked to K.G. about it; I said, 'You're going to hear a lot of [rumors] stuff, but I'll call you if something really happens,’” Taylor told the Pioneer Press. “I just asked him [about a trade], and he'd say, 'No, I haven't changed my mind.’”
On July 17, ESPN’s Marc Stein cautioned against believing Taylor’s comments regarding Garnett. ”Who said KG wants to leave? The Wolves went all out to trade him before the draft knowing KG preferred to stay. ... If folks want to think that whatever Taylor said in the paper today means that the Wolves are done discussing KG deals for the summer, it's your choice.”
This is when things get most interesting though. Everything got quiet immediately after Taylor made comments suggesting KG would be returning to Minnesota. No new information came out, and for the most part it was just considered the rumor that wouldn’t die.
Take this for an example of how much of a ghost town rumorville was at this time. CelticsBlog’s own FLCeltsFan has published Daily Links for years, but on July 19 she couldn’t find any Celtics-related stories and wrote this: “We are in the slow season. There wasn't a single Celtics article in any of the Boston media. In tracking down the links, I find a lot of stories from just about every other team going after certain players but nothing like that is coming out about the Celtics. Either we have very tight-lipped people in our organization or nothing is going on.”
FLCeltsFan had the right idea. The Celtics and Wolves were tight lipped. This is when negotiations entered an elevated stage. Anything relevant wasn’t being reported.
Again, we just didn’t know. According to Springer, "During the last few weeks, Garnett's desire to play in Boston came to match the desire of the Celtics and Timberwolves to complete a deal.” Or that, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen, "For more than three weeks Ainge and McHale talked off and on—as many as five conversations on some days, having in-house deliberation on others—as McHale tried to squeeze the maximum out of the deal.” Or that—and here’s the big one—on July 20 Ainge flew to California to meet face-to-face with Garnett after KG’s agent and McHale approved of the meeting. Ainge and KG met for about 90 minutes, outlined how Garnett would fit in the system, and they worked out general terms of his salary.
After that meeting, Garnett spoke with then-current Celtics Pierce and Allen, and former Celtics Antoine Walker and Gary Payton “to learn more about the Celtics and the city.”
This stage was like the Dark Ages from our perspective, but to the teams it was like the Renaissance.
For all the talk today about a car salesman and a soundboard operator reporting rumors about Westbrook and Griffin, you can’t ignore that Garnett-to-Boston was first reported by two unsubstantiated sources in a Real GM user called “kingly222” and “rickyfan3.0...” on CelticsBlog. He had been reporting news for the entire month since he had a connection with a player involved in the deal. On July 29, kingly222 said the deal was on, and considering his track record, CelticsBlog’s Jeff Clark posted a piece suggesting something might happen.
The next day, on Monday, July 30, the mainstream reports were back and in full force—except they weren’t just rumors this time. “It’s basically done,” a source told Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman. “If it does happen, this will make the Celtics relevant again.”
There was an avalanche of information, with details of Garnett’s contract negotiations and explanations for why the deal was held-up in the first place.
Less than 24 hours later, Garnett was introduced to the media.
The rest is history.
These are lessons that can be applied to any NBA situation, but here on CelticsBlog we’ll review them through the scope of Celtics rumors from this past month.
Seismic trades are hard to make: If the Celtics are actually still pursuing Westbrook and/or Griffin, or another star, it’ll take awhile to get done, even if at one point it felt imminent.
Trades are even harder when it involves renegotiated contracts: The Garnett situation was different than Westbrook/Griffin, but still, one of the biggest hang-ups in the deal was extending KG. That’s also the case now: Unless Westbrook agrees to extend, or Griffin picks up his option, a deal is off because no team will risk losing him in 2017. Sam Presti dealt James Harden two days before the 2012 NBA season began, so he might milk the clock as much as possible. Conversely, this is why DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler could be harder to acquire, since those players are locked up for multiple years on value contracts.
Many versions of trades are discussed: The Celtics were part of nearly every late-June rumor with Garnett, some of which involved Garnett heading elsewhere. Ainge even told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck that over the years there were some discussions about sending Pierce to the Wolves. The point here being that some of leaks you’ve read these past couple of weeks may have been blown out of proportion. But they could always be the tip of the iceberg, too.
Relationships are vital to completing deals: Garnett’s relationships with Billups and Lue also played a role in convincing him to come to Boston. But once negotiations got serious, the Celtics and Wolves were able to keep the talks quiet was because of the relationship between Ainge and Kevin McHale. Those same ingredients are there now through shared agents and a history of working relationships. Ainge and Clippers GM Doc Rivers obviously have a long history. And Ainge has made two big trades with Thunder GM Sam Presti (Allen in 2007 and Perkins/Green in 2011), both of which popped up out of nowhere.
Timing matters: In 2007 there were no reports indicating who the Celtics were signing after the deal was done. Eddie House, James Posey, Scot Pollard, and rookie deals for Glen Davis and Gabe Pruitt weren’t reported until August. But this year the Celtics have reportedly agreed to contracts with their two rookie second-rounders, Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil, ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and restricted free agent Tyler Zeller. Those four contracts haven’t appeared on the NBA’s transaction wire though just yet, so it’s possible they’re waiting to make them official until after the dust settles from trades. That means it’s still possible Zeller could be signed-and-traded.
Flexibility is necessary. The Celtics passed on signing any free agents that compromised their cap flexibility in 2007 since they needed to maintain it to make the complicated Garnett trade work. That’s what has happened last year with them holding off on making their deals official, and once again this year, as outlined above. Other teams are doing this too. The Lakers (Brandon Ingram), the Celtics (Jaylen Brown), the Bucks (Thon Maker), and the Thunder (Domantas Sabonis) haven’t signed their lottery picks. Four other first-rounders remain unsigned, but all of them are expected to be draft-and-stashes. It might not be a coincidence that three of those teams are reportedly in discussions with the Thunder for Westbrook, according to WTLC’s Adam Joseph.
per sources, Presti discussed Westbrook deals with several different teams (inc. SAS, MIL, LAL, BOS), but no middle ground was found.— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) July 21, 2016
No news can be good news for fans: The public probably won’t hear about trade talks until a trade is imminent or completely dead. If it’s imminent, your phone will be buzzing. But if it’s dead, you’ll know because the Celtics will make other moves official (like their four agreements this past Saturday), or there will be reports firmly stating it’s over, possibly with statements from the team. There have been none of those this summer.
There are no guarantees the Celtics’ trade discussions for Westbrook or Griffin are serious or ever were serious. But if we assume they are, it’s quite possible they are in that same exact stage as the Garnett talks were at this time nine years ago.
It’s quiet. That’s when decisions are typically being made.
ESPN’s Royce Young, who was plugged into Durant’s free agency more than any local writer in OKC, published a brilliant column Monday evening detailing Westbrook’s decision. The words you read will remind you of what Garnett went through in 2007.
“Westbrook has been forced into his free agency a year earlier than expected,” Young wrote. “Effectively, he's making his 2017 decision now. He's either in with the Thunder, or he tells them he's not, and they trade him. ... Westbrook wasn't prepared to be in this position -- three weeks ago, like everyone else, he thought Durant was coming back. And he had to learn the hard way he wasn't.”
Garnett was taken aback by the rumors he was being shopped back in 2007. That’s why his agent initially came out and said Garnett wouldn’t play with the Celtics. The Globe’s Springer wrote, “According to Ainge and others, it wasn't that Garnett wanted to play somewhere besides Boston, but rather he needed more time to become comfortable with relocating here.”
Decisions take time.
There are two big differences here. The Wolves stunk when Garnett left, and the Thunder are still competitive. Also, the Thunder would prefer to keep Westbrook. They just need to know he’s going to stay. “So the Thunder need a commitment from Westbrook,” Young wrote. “They really want it in the form of a renegotiated extension, which would serve as a declaration of responsibility to take over the burden of the franchise, as well as stabilizing it for the long-term.”
Young also adds that the Thunder have told teams Westbrook is unavailable—which my league source said last week is untrue and he is in fact available—but there is “a growing belief Westbrook will think heavily about an extension but will first weigh every angle before doing it.”
Young closes his piece dispelling the belief that Westbrook wants to “relish taking over the alpha role of the team.” He says Westbrook cares most about winning, and now faces the reality of “carrying the burden of the franchise, of being the public face, of answering every media question, of recruiting free agents, of being the cultivator of culture, of leading a young roster in transition.”
Westbrook is thinking. He’s going through his decision-making process, just like Garnett had to do. That’s why it’s so quiet right now. Once he makes his choice, only then can the dominoes fall. With August less than one week away, the Olympics set to begin, and NBA executives ready to leave for vacation, the clock is ticking.