Once Garnett analyzed situation, trade to Celtics picked up speed
When Kevin Garnett received a call from his agent, Andy Miller, at 2:30 a.m. last Tuesday, he learned the details of a deal between Minnesota and Boston that had been finalized. Miller had just one question for his client: What number did he want to wear with the Celtics? Garnett selected No. 5, symbolic of being the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA draft.
At 7 a.m., Miller woke up Garnett and told him to sign a faxed copy of the three-year contract extension worth $60 million. Almost 12 hours later, Garnett appeared at a news conference holding his green No. 5 jersey, flanked by new teammates and fellow All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
The 72 hours leading up to the news conference -- the weekend whirlwind that stretched into Monday, then the early-morning hours Tuesday -- left Garnett feeling "like being in a Lamborghini doing 200 with your head stuck out the window."
But the smiles and joke-filled comments at the news conference belied the weeks of careful negotiations, constant cross-country calls, and convincing that resulted in the blockbuster trade. The final 72 hours may have been a whirlwind for Garnett, but the preceding six weeks were a study in the ups and downs, starts and stops of deal-making in the NBA. In recent days, league and team sources -- as well as people close to Garnett -- described the events leading to one of the biggest acquisitions in Celtics history.
Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale were bitterly disappointed they could not complete a deal before the June 28 draft, but a second round of talks started in early July.
And once discussions resumed, the trade progressed surprisingly smoothly, in large part because of conversations Garnett had with Ainge and close friends and family. In addition, when the deal was resurrected, Garnett was more mentally prepared to leave Minnesota than when the trade possibility first surfaced. His initial reluctance to go and stay long term in Boston was one of the few critical sticking points in negotiations.
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.
"It's this simple: We had what they wanted [Theo Ratliff's expiring contract and Al Jefferson] and they had what we wanted [Garnett]," said Ainge. "That's why it never really died and we were able to work out a deal."
After giving Garnett some time to think about his situation, Miller called his client a week after the draft. Following conversations with Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, Garnett recognized the Timberwolves were moving in a different direction from one that would make them a title contender in the near future. Although Garnett initially made it known he had no interest in leaving Minnesota, the former MVP realized a trade would be best.
"The more I continued to talk to Minnesota about the future, making the team better, and with [people in the organization] voicing their opinions on what they saw for the team in the future, it contradicted how I saw it, or what I thought was best for making the team better," said Garnett. "The more and more it came to real life that I probably wouldn't be in a Timberwolves jersey next year . . . Minnesota's interests were different from mine and I had to think about a different alternative."
Back in Los Angeles a few days later, Garnett sought the counsel of his best friends, Detroit's Chauncey Billups and Atlanta's Tyronn Lue. Garnett has an offseason home in Malibu, Calif., Billups was in LA for an Adidas photo shoot with Garnett. Lue spends about a month with Garnett in Malibu every summer, though he was in the city to have his right knee scoped July 17 by the Lakers' team doctor.
The trio discussed the teams interested in Garnett -- Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, the Lakers, and Phoenix -- and which presented the best scenario for the 10-time All-Star. Billups and Lue helped convince Garnett that Boston would be a good place to play, recognizing what the power forward could add to a mix that already included Pierce and Allen. Also, Lue endorsed Doc Rivers as a coach, having played briefly for him in Orlando at the start of the 2003-04 season.
"I talked to KG and it was tough at first because he's so loyal to Minnesota, his family, friends, and the fans," said Lue, who was spotted at an LA tennis tournament with Garnett July 20. "All he knew was Minnesota for the last 12 years. I thought Boston would be a great situation, a perfect situation with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. I thought automatically they'd be in the Eastern Conference finals with KG. He thought about it and asked, 'You think so?' I said, 'Yeah.'
"Then, Chauncey came out and said, 'You have to take the best thing for you and that's playing in Boston, even though we'd be in the same conference and play four times a year.' We definitely convinced him to choose Boston because two great players were already in place. Adding KG and being in the Eastern Conference, it'd be easier to win.
"Then, KG asked me, 'What about the city?' I said, 'You don't go out anyway, so it doesn't matter. You don't go out of the house. You could play in Alaska.' He's like, 'Yeah, you're right.' "
With Garnett warming to the Celtics, Miller asked McHale if Ainge could speak with his client. McHale gave the OK and Ainge traveled to LA. The meeting took place July 20, the same day Rivers hosted his charity golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., making Ainge a late scratch from the event. Ainge met with Garnett for about 90 minutes, discussing the direction of the Celtics and trying to find common ground. "We had a good conversation," Ainge said.
Neither side wanted to make the same missteps that initially derailed the deal. When serious talk of a Garnett-to-Boston trade surfaced in mid-June, Minnesota was the driving force behind conversations. At that time, news of an exchange caught Garnett unprepared, even though recent offseasons have been filled with the power forward being on and off the trading block.
As Boston and Minnesota sped forward before the draft, the teams ended up way ahead of Garnett: The player at the center of the deal needed time to analyze the situation. Without any opportunity to do so, Miller announced that Garnett was "not coming to Boston" and attributed the stance to an "isolated" situation between the Garnett camp and the Timberwolves. With Garnett holding a player option for the 2008-09 season and the prospect of a one-year stay in Boston, the comments by Miller slowed the process to a near halt in the days before the draft.
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. Ainge has repeatedly gone to great lengths to explain that the power forward never had any issues with Boston as a team or a city, that all reports indicating he didn't want to play and live in Boston were false.
With the statements by Miller coming a week before the draft, however, there wasn't enough time for Garnett, the Celtics, and the Timberwolves to come to terms on a deal that would have involved Jefferson, Ratliff, Wally Szczerbiak, Sebastian Telfair, the No. 5 pick, and an extension for Garnett. Instead, the Celtics used the No. 5 pick to help acquire Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. The addition of Allen made it easier for Garnett to feel comfortable with Boston and the direction of the franchise, though Ainge denies it was part of a grand scheme to lure the power forward.
"You never know what's going to happen," said Ainge. "There was nothing set, but we always hoped we could do other deals. I still hoped we could get KG."
Following the Los Angeles meeting with Ainge, Garnett called Miller and told him he was comfortable with Boston. Negotiations once again gathered speed as Garnett placed calls to Allen, Pierce, and former Celtics Antoine Walker and Gary Payton to learn more about the Celtics and the city.
With McHale ready to depart on a cruise, Garnett in Mexico on vacation, and Miller at a different location in Mexico to attend Antonio McDyess's wedding last weekend, talks intensified and hit the homestretch as Minnesota and Boston agreed upon which players would be exchanged late last Sunday.
The Timberwolves expressed strong interest in point guard of the future Rajon Rondo throughout the process, but they could not pry him from the Celtics' grasp, one of the reasons being that Telfair had to be included in the deal. As negotiations turned serious, Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and Taylor talked about which players would be involved. In the end, the teams decided Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and two first-round picks would accompany Jefferson, Ratliff, and Telfair to Minnesota.
Miller kept Garnett updated by e-mail. On Monday, there were contract details to finalize.
Upon returning from Mexico, Miller headed to Billups's golf outing in the Detroit area, then flew home late Monday. The agent found himself stuck on the tarmac at the White Plains Westchester County Airport in New York for two hours as he talked to Ainge on the phone about the remaining details in the Garnett contract extension. They hung up at around 2 a.m. with the deal done, and Miller ready to deliver the good news.
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.