Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
In this edition, we will relive the greatest Boston Celtics moment of the 21st century: The franchise acquiring superstar Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, and two first-round picks.
Figuring out the “greatest” moment for an organization like the Celtics, which has 17 championships, 10 MVPs, and 141 All-Star Game selections, is never an easy task. Luckily, going into the 2007-08 season, Celtics fans had very little to cheer about in the 21st century outside of Paul Pierce and the Curse of the Bambino being broken.
During the 2003-04 season, Boston fired head coach Jim O’Brien and named John Carroll as interim coach. Carroll failed to impress general manager Danny Ainge during his 36-game audition, so Ainge hired a new coach heading into the 2004-05 season. His name is Doc Rivers.
After two seasons of a Rivers-Pierce pairing, which resulted in a division title, the Celtics went into the 2006 NBA Draft eyeing a point guard. The first was a draft day trade for the draft rights to Rajon Rondo. The other was a former high school phenom, Sebastian Telfair.
The final piece of the puzzle came the following off-season, when Ainge pulled off a blockbuster trade. Ainge found a trade partner in the Seattle Supersonics (RIP). He landed superstar sharpshooter Ray Allen, along with rookie Glen “Big Baby” Davis, in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Jeff Green. The deal gave Ainge and the Celtics the first two legs of their soon-to-be Big Three.
Boston had long coveted Garnett ahead of the trade on July 31, 2007. Garnett did not feel the same, though. He, essentially, rejected the Celtics’ 2007 draft night offer by claiming that he would opt out after just one season in Boston, making the Celtics feel queasy. While the Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t anxious to give away the best player in their franchise history, GM Kevin McHale realized the ceiling for the Garnett-led Wolves, having missed the playoffs the three previous seasons. McHale imagined pressing the reset button with the 22-year-old big man he coveted, Al Jefferson.
After hearing of Minnesota’s willingness to trade him, Garnett suddenly imagined a future in the prestigious green-and-white uniforms. The chance to team up with fellow All-Stars Pierce and Allen also caught KG’s attention.
Once Garnett gave the Celtics the hint that he would be willing to re-sign, the deal was done. In return for Garnett, Minnesota received Jefferson, Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract, Ryan Gomes, and two first-round draft picks. In conjunction with the trade, KG agreed to a three-year, $51.3 million contract extension to guarantee at least four seasons in Boston.
Celtics fans had massive expectations for the team, with shiny new toys Garnett and Allen joining the group, and with Rondo slowly, sneakily turning into a star. The threat of LeBron James, the five-time conference finalist Detroit Pistons, and the Dwight Howard–Stan Van Gundy-led Orlando Magic all loomed, but Celts fans felt invincible.
And that is how the team responded out of the gate. They were 22-3 by the time Christmas rolled around and never looked back. Earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 66 regular season wins, the Celtics had everything going for them.
Then came an eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks team with nothing to lose. The Hawks were loaded with young, productive players who didn’t feel the pressure. Getting into the playoffs with just 37 wins, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and rookie Al Horford came gunning for the star-studded Celtics. Their attempt was valiant, pushing the first seed to seven games before running out of gas, as they scored just 26 points in the first half of Game 7.
Another seven-game series followed, this time against James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 7 was a spectacle. Pierce went toe-to-toe with first-team All-NBA member James, going for 41 points compared to James’ 45. Pierce’s teammates helped him more than James’, advancing Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics beat the Pistons in six games to reach the Finals, behind strong efforts from Garnett and Pierce.
Once there, the Celtics met the Los Angeles Lakers for the 11th time in NBA Finals history. This was also Boston’s first Finals appearance in 20 years. After a hard-fought six-game series against a loaded Lakers team, Boston won the title for the first time since 1986. The Celtics were finally champions again.
After a run that included one title, two Finals appearances, and 11 playoff series victories, the Celtics saw the end of the greatest Boston era since Larry Bird‘s heyday.
The next step was figuring out how to pivot from Garnett and Pierce to future success. Enter Billy King, then the Brooklyn Nets‘ GM. After a successful season led by Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, as well as new head coach Jason Kidd, King eyed the next NBA “super-team.” The Celtics and Nets agreed to terms to send Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to Brooklyn for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, and Kris Joseph, along with three first-round draft picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and a 2017 pick swap.
At the time, reactions to the trade were mixed. Brooklyn assembled what seemed to be a legitimate championship contender while Boston traded aging stars for a swath of picks. What the Nets didn’t see coming was the rapid decline of Williams, Pierce, and Garnett within two seasons.
Garnett’s (and Pierce’s) return allowed the Celtics to pivot from Rivers to young prospect coach Brad Stevens. They also never had to bottom out in the re-building process. That is because a core of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and company, within Stevens’s system, played solid, smooth basketball.
All of that happened while a version of “The Process” occured due to the Garnett trade. The Celtics landed James Young (I’M STILL A BELIEVER), Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, the 2018 Lakers/2019 Kings pick, and Brooklyn’s 2018 pick. Boston was able to maintain a present and a future following a Garnett era that led to the largest win differential ever between seasons.
Somehow, the 2007 Kevin Garnett trade could affect two whole decades of Celtics’ basketball, despite him playing just six seasons in the historic green-and-white. It will surely be remembered as one of the most important moments in franchise history, as well as one of the greatest.
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