A decade later, the Celtics’ 2007 trade for Kevin Garnett can be definitively viewed for what it was: a franchise-altering event. What before had appeared a directionless team suddenly became a contender, with the Garnett deal providing a launchpad for the 2008 championship run.
The immediate reaction to the deal was varied. While the trade commanded undivided attention in Minnesota, Boston found itself somewhat divided between two trades which, in retrospect, had vastly different impacts.
“Garnett vs. Gagne”
On the same day that Garnett was traded to the Celtics, another trade was completed in Boston. The Red Sox acquired reliever Eric Gagne shortly before the MLB trade deadline. Interestingly (especially in retrospect), the two trades received near equal attention from The Boston Globe.
“Gagne and Garnett,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy in his column on August 1. “New stars in the New England sports galaxy.” The sports section’s lower fold was split between the two new acquisitions. Given their divergent impacts on the Boston sports scene, the coverage is fascinating to look back on.
Still, the weight of the Garnett deal wasn’t lost on the Globe’s Peter May. He pointed out the tectonic shift in Eastern Conference power was measured most visibly in the updated odds:
Sportsbook.com has put the Celtics at 5-2 to win the Eastern Conference (the favorite) and gulp – 5-1 – to win the 2008 NBA championship, trailing only the Mavericks, Suns, and Spurs.
At the Boston Herald, Gerry Callahan – like many Celtics fans – was still trying to process the team’s changing fortunes:
Eastern Conference favorites? Is that really what they are now? Three months ago, the Boston Celtics won their 24th and final game of the 2006-07 season. They finished 29 games behind the conference leaders and 16 games out of playoff contention.
At the team’s press conference, the reception was a signal of the excitement that would energize the franchise:
— Joe Giza (@JoeGiza) July 21, 2017
And even across the vaunted 2007 Boston sports scene packed with title contenders, Garnett’s arrival stood out:
“He’s not KG, but he’s good”
In Minnesota, the deal received the city’s undivided attention. Even before it was confirmed, the July 31 edition of the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune touted the deal with large section on its front page. One notable poll surveying nearly 9,700 on the Star Tribune’s website found that “slightly more than half” were in favor of trading Garnett.
Quickly after the deal was confirmed, Minnesota coverage attempted to make sense of the seven-for-one deal. Eyeing 22-year-old Al Jefferson, the most legitimate piece acquired by the Timberwolves in the trade, the Star Tribune declared, “He’s not KG, but he’s good.“
The breakup with Garnett, who had been so loyal for so long, was treated with mixed reactions. As Wolves owner Glenn Taylor summarized, “It’s like parting ways with friends. It hurts, but you have to get on with the journey.”
Some fans were understandably distraught.
“He is the heart and soul of this team,” a fan told reporter Melissa Rosenberg. “This would be like if the Twins had ever traded Kirby Puckett, it is just something that shouldn’t happen.”
Yet not everyone was down on the deal. Other Minnesotans wished Garnett luck.
“He deserve a championship,” Wolves fan Nick Hooks told Rosenberg. “I don’t want him to leave the game like [Charles] Barkley or [Patrick] Ewing, without a ring.”
McHale the scapegoat
One of the leading takeaways in the aftermath of the trade was in the criticism of the Wolves’ general manager Kevin McHale. His playing years as a Celtics legend did not go unnoticed in the immediate analysis.
Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote a damning takedown titled, “McHale should be the next Kevin to leave Wolves behind.”
Souhan’s scorn for McHale also included a shot at Danny Ainge:
McHale waited until he couldn’t cut a deal with anybody other than his old buddy Danny Ainge, the Celtics GM, who, without a former teammate to take his roster refuse, might have eclipsed Mchale as the worst general manager in the NBA.
ESPN’s Marc Stein, while saving most of his scorn for team owner Glen Taylor, still made sure to not leave McHale entirely free of blame:
OK, OK. I know that doesn’t make you feel any better, but something has to be said about Kevin McHale at a time when fans who’ve been baying for his ouster for months are shrieking louder than ever.
Something like: It’s not McHale’s fault.
Correction: It’s not all McHale’s fault.
And another then-ESPN columnist, Bill Simmons, made no pretense about hiding McHale’s Celtics heritage. His column carried the title, “McHale adds another notch to his Celtics legacy.” It included this line:
My NBA guide claims that McHale retired from the Celtics in 1993, but apparently that’s a misprint. How else could you explain his decision to trade Kevin Garnett to Boston for the Al Jefferson pu pu platter deluxe?
McHale would eventually move from the front office to the bench, becoming the Wolves coach in December, 2008. He would last until the summer of 2009 before parting ways.
Garnett, meanwhile, would far eclipse his fellow July 31 arrival, as Eric Gagne would leave in free agency in late 2007. And seismic changes in the Celtics’ predicted fortunes proved accurate, as Boston won its 17th championship in June, 2008.