Now before you hit send on that angry e-mail, take 30 seconds or so for me to get to my point. The Kevin Garnett era brought relevancy to the Boston Celtics at a crucial time in the city’s sports history. The other three teams were good (and winning), and here came the Celtics, every bit as good and at times the most entertaining of the bunch. Night after night, fans packed the Garden to watch Garnett grease the stanchion under the hoop with a perfectly round circle of sweat, then drop 22 points and 10 rebounds, yelling like a maniac at anyone who dared make eye contact.
It’s been seven years to the day since Garnett was introduced as a Celtic in a press conference that’s tattooed in my brain. Flanked by Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Garnett held up his new jersey, bobbing and swaying like a kid who couldn’t stand still. It was a striking visual moment, the three future Hall of Famers grinning ear-to-ear, their best NBA seasons just ahead of them.
“It’s like being in a Lamborghini doing 200 [mph] with your head stuck out the window,” Garnett said that day. “It’s been like a whirlwind.”
The entire Garnett era felt a little that way, a rush of adrenaline that disappeared too soon. I covered the team during Garnett’s six seasons here, which came immediately after covering two seasons of absolute garbage. The trade sending Garnett to Boston in exchange for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and 2009 first round draft pick wasn’t just a shot in the arm, it was a total game-changer. The Celtics went from bad to great in an instant.
You won’t talk to any Celtics fans who would take back the Garnett era, and his presence here, coupled with the team’s success, certainly made my job a hell of a lot more fun. But as the Celtics move through an increasingly frustrating offseason, it’s clear that the trade seven years ago still clouds the judgment of C’s fans today.
The obvious place to start is the pipe-dream for Kevin Love we can’t quite seem to let go of. Love’s visit to Boston fueled a frenzy of speculation that he might end up here. That dream faded as the summer went along, and, armed only with draft picks Marcus Smart and James Young and a minor trade for Tyler Zeller, fan interest in the team has all but fizzled away. What we’re left with is a bunch of sad, sad articles on the Celtics fireworks that weren’t.
— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) July 31, 2014
Why were we so smitten with Love in the first place? It’s 2007’s fault, our expectations so skewed by that one deal that we expect another to come along, any day now, and sweep us off our feet. Nevermind that the NBA is one of the hardest sports to make deals in, and that trades are often based more on the salary cap than the merits of the players involved. Nevermind that top-10 NBA players don’t get traded often, because why would you trade your best player in a star-based league? Isn’t the point to draft these guys (Love, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge) yourself and build around them?
That last option, drafting and developing homegrown players who eventually make you a contender, is the path I always hoped the Celtics would go down. They might not have a choice now. Love likely isn’t coming, and neither is another superstar via trade, at least not right away. The rebuild won’t be short. This time around, it will certainly last more than a day.
There’s precedent to the Celtics building from the ground up, of course, and it wasn’t always pretty. Prior to the KG deal, the C’s had amassed Jefferson, Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo, Green, and Paul Pierce, all homegrown talent. Pierce played only 46 games in 2006-07 and the Celtics won 24 games. With Pierce the previous season, they won 33. Young talent doesn’t win games in the NBA, at least not until it morphs into talent with a little experience.
The Celtics’ best chance of getting better is by finding some sort of middle ground between letting their young players be the sole focus and shipping them away in one neat package for a superstar. For fans, the best course of action is to forget the magic bullet. The Garnett deal was a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s time to let it go.