Kobe Bryant And Kevin Garnett: The Lakers' Big What If


Ten years ago in the summer of 2007, the Lakers' future was relatively unknown. Three seasons had gone by since Shaquille O'Neal's departure. The Lakers missed the playoffs once, and the Steve Nash-led Suns eliminated them in the first round in back-to-back years. Kobe Bryant felt disgruntled with the lack of talent around him and demanded a trade. To get out of the purgatory that is mediocrity, General Manager Mitch Kupchak attempted to swing a deal that would change the franchise's history: acquiring Top 5 Superstar Kevin Garnett.

The Deal

Lakers: Kevin Garnett

Timberwolves: Celtics' 5th pick (which was eventually Jeff Green), unknown Celtics' young player (possibly Al Jefferson), potentially the Lakers' 19th overall pick (which ended up being Javaris Crittenton)

Pacers: Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom

Celtics: Jermaine O'Neal

According to ESPN's article back in 2007, trade talks bottomed out because Celtics' GM Danny Ainge was not thrilled with his end of the deal. (Sounds familiar to the Paul George trade rumors, doesn't it?)

Later, the Lakers and Timberwolves tried to get a deal done without a third or fourth party. Kupchak proposed Bynum, Odom, and the 19th pick for Garnett. However, McHale was skeptical. Multiple teams were not thrilled with Odom's "flaky" behavior, but 19-year-old Bynum was a hot commodity. Dr. Jerry Buss, the former late owner of the Lakers, had a handshake deal with Timberwolves' owner Glen Davis to bring Garnett to Los Angeles. In the end, McHale found a litany of young players instead. The Wolves also did not want Garnett in the west. The rest is history.

What If?

If this massive four-team trade went down, the Lakers would have been very impressive. They probably would have added Derek Fisher anyway. At the time, he wanted to come back to Los Angeles due to his daughter's health problems. They let Smush Parker walk. Kwame Brown would still be a starter (probably not for long). Vladimir Radmanovic was the starting three to go along with the superstar duo.

This is where things get very juicy. Let's assume the Lakers still eventually trade Maurice Evans and Brian Cook for Trevor Ariza later in the season. He would start at the three. Other than Javaris Crittenton, the Lakers still had the pieces for the eventual Pau Gasol deal. Kupchak probably still pulls it off with a future first round pick instead of Crittenton. Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, and Kevin Garnett start with Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, and Vladimir Radmanovic coming off the bench.

The Celtics get Jermaine O'Neal. Al Jefferson is probably the unknown young player they give up since McHale loved him. They still probably give up a bunch of young assets for Ray Allen since they had a lot. A big three of Pierce, Allen, and O'Neal would have been solid, but O'Neal suffered a significant decline in 2008. Boston would not have contended.

The Pacers might have looked promising, but Bynum's injuries and Odom's inconsistency would disappoint. Indy probably ends up in a similar situation in drafting Paul George in 2010 to go along with Danny Granger.

The Timberwolves end up with a few young assets, so their future does not change much.

The Alternate Universe Part I: A New Hope

With no juggernaut Celtics roaming around, the East would have been wide open. Boston would not have beaten the defending East champions in the Cavaliers. With no competition besides an old Pistons squad, they beat the previous year, the Cavs march back to the finals. With a big three of Bryant, Garnett, and Gasol, the Lakers would have gone to the finals as they did originally. Ariza would have had a bad foot like he originally did so he would be out. The Kobe vs LeBron NBA Finals actually happens. With a better roster, the Lakers sweep and win the 2008 NBA championship.

Part II: The Lakers Strike Back

Because the Lakers lack frontcourt depth, they do not trade Radmanovic for Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison the next season. Let's assume Garnett gets hurt before the 2009 playoffs like he did for the Celtics. With Kobe and Pau, they still probably get past the Nuggets in a tough series to reach the finals. Then, they face the ascending Orlando Magic. Despite no Garnett, Ariza is now healthy this postseason, unlike the previous year. The Lakers win in a tough six or seven games, repeating as champs.

Part III: Return of the KG

For the next season, Ariza leaves in free agency to get a pay raise, so the Lakers signed Ron Artest. With everyone healthy, the Lakers again make the finals with their best team yet. They have a rematch against an improved Magic team that added Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes, and Gilbert Arenas. In another tough series, the Lakers pull through and complete the three-peat.

Takeaway

My take is, while short, this would have been an incredible era for basketball. We would be comparing this to all the great teams the league has ever seen. After 2010, they probably do not even make another final, but the Lakers end up with 17 NBA titles compared to Boston's 16. Kobe Bryant has as many rings as Michael Jordan. Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol's legacies are also raised. We remember that era as one of the most dominant runs in NBA history. Even though this alternate reality never happened, back-to-back with Kobe and Pau is a great consolation prize.

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