Did Kobe Cost the Lakers Garnett?
Was Kobe Bryant the reason the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t land Kevin Garnett?
Back in the summer of 2007 the Lakers were in disarray. Bryant fumed at owner Dr. Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, declaring the team wasn’t willing to make the necessary moves to win. Kobe went on a radio campaign, blasting the team and ultimately demanding a trade.
As first reported by HOOPSWORLD, Bryant was captured on video ridiculing the team for not trading Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd.
“Ship his [rear end] out. We’re talking Jason Kidd,” said Bryant using more colorful language than bracketed here. “They didn’t want to do that. That’s why we’re in this [messed up] position.”
The Lakers had been ousted by the Phoenix Suns for the second-straight year in the first-round of the playoffs and Kobe was frustrated with his team’s lack of progress after the Shaquille O’Neal championship era.
What Bryant must not have known was that the Lakers had been silently trying to acquire Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves dating back to 2006.
The topic eventually rose above the heads of General Managers Kevin McHale and Kupchak to owners Glen Taylor and Dr. Buss, who nearly cemented a deal to trade Garnett for Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and other considerations.
This past Wednesday, Garnett opened up to Dan Patrick about the possibility of becoming a Laker nearly half a decade ago.
“I was pretty close to be honest,” said Garnett. “What disturbed me about the whole Lakers’ situation was just Kobe and Phil at the time. They were at each other pretty bad.”
In truth, Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson were rarely at odds. While it was never an easy job for Jackson to get Bryant to balance his elite individual talent to the team concept, Kobe’s issues at the time had to do with management, not coaching.
Nonetheless, Garnett wanted nothing to do with it.
“A new situation, full of uncertainty, wasn’t something I wanted to get into,” said Kevin after a number of disappointing years in Minnesota.
“It was your choice not to go to the Lakers?” asked Patrick.
“It was my choice, yes,” answered Garnett. “There was a lot going on and I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Bryant wasn’t the only public issue the Lakers had that summer.
That May, prior to the Kobe trade demand, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss questioned Jackson’s coaching on local radio.
“When we look back, maybe the coaches didn’t do such a good job of handling a young team,” said Buss, “Maybe Kobe was overenthusiastic about sharing the ball or maybe he should have shared the ball more.”
In response, his sister, Executive Vice President of Business Operations Jeanie Buss, lashed back on radio in support of Jackson (also her boyfriend).
“My brother was on this station last week and he talked about his disappointment in Phil . . . and Phil calling out players in the media and the fact that he didn’t appreciate that,” said Jeanie. “I thought that was interesting because that’s what he was doing to Phil in the media. I guess if he didn’t appreciate it why is he doing it to Phil? He never talked to me about it.”
Soon (former) Assistant Coach Kurt Rambis was on air, also standing up for Jackson against Jim.
“We’re working with our young guys constantly on a daily basis to improve them but Jim doesn’t know that,” said Rambis. “He doesn’t come to practice, so he doesn’t see the amount of time that we spend working with the young ball players.”
So to put all the blame on Bryant for the Lakers losing out on Garnett might be short-sighted but the Kobe drama was probably the tipping point that kept KG out of Los Angeles.
Blessing in Disguise?
It’s impossible to know how the Lakers would have built a roster around Bryant and Garnett with Odom and Bynum gone. To make salaries match, Kwame Brown might have ended up in Minnesota as well, so assets would have been limited.
Of course the Lakers survived Bryant’s trade demand. Bynum came into camp with a new, powerful body and a vastly improved game. Kupchak struck gold dealing Brown and others for Pau Gasol without giving up Odom or Bynum.
The addition of Gasol would catapult the Lakers to the NBA Finals (although a knee injury would sideline Bynum) where LA met . . . Kevin Garnett and the Celtics.
Boston took the title but the Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, the latter against Garnett and the Celtics.
Some believe things happen for a reason. Regardless, missed opportunities are a part of the sport.
The Lakers managed to navigate out of a very difficult summer to three straight trips to the NBA Finals before this past May’s second-round sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers landed Gasol (instead of Garnett) without giving up Odom and Bynum. Garnett is still a potent player but he’s slowing a bit.
Gasol had a poor postseason but should have more years left at a higher level than KG.
Odom won the Sixth Man of the Year Award and has a trade-friendly contract.
Bynum has had recurring knee injuries but if healthy, he’s one of the top centers in the league (also with a favorable contract).
It remains to be seen how long Bryant has at the top of his game and clearly the Lakers need to improve after getting embarrassed by the Mavericks.
At some point the team will need to think about Life After Kobe but the deeper question is can Jim Buss lead the Lakers to another championship era?
The issues raised in 2007 still exist. Dr. Buss has gradually given his son more authority in the decision-making process. Dr. Buss has been one of the most storied owners in all of sports. It would be difficult for anyone to achieve a comparable level of success. The same can be said of Coach Mike Brown, who will take the reins this season (if the lockout is ever resolved) in place of Jackson.
Add in the wrinkle of a possible hard or harder cap that may limit LA’s ability to spend on payroll, the future remains a definite question mark for the Lakers.