Kevin Garnett should soon become the newest member of the Celtics, according to multiple league sources who said it was only a matter of time before Boston and Minnesota finalized a blockbuster deal. The Celtics will send Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, and two first-round picks to the Timberwolves for Garnett, terms both sides have agreed to in principle. The 5-for-1 trade will be officially complete once issues concerning Garnett's contract are resolved, but one Celtics official cautioned last night that the deal was not done and would not be complete until today at the earliest, despite reports to the contrary.
As of yesterday, there remained issues to negotiate, not least of which were the player option worth $23 million Garnett holds for the 2008-09 season and a 15-percent trade kicker that must be paid at the time of the deal. According to league sources, the Celtics do not want to be responsible for the entire trade kicker, worth approximately $6.75 million. Also potentially slowing the trade process is the fact that Garnett is on a cruise until the end of this week.
When talks between Minnesota and Boston took place before this year's June draft, the option, plus Garnett's hesitancy to play in Boston, as relayed through his agent Andy Miller, were considerable sticking points. The Celtics did not want to part with Jefferson and his long-term potential if Garnett would stay in Boston for just one season. Getting Garnett to agree to an extension was the key to the deal. If Garnett agrees to an extension this time, the Celtics will look to come to reasonable terms as a condition of the deal.
League sources added Garnett is now more amenable to playing in Boston, especially since he would be teaming with fellow All-Stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, not Pierce, Wally Szczerbiak and a group of young players with largely unrealized potential. As a result, those same sources said both sides are confident the contractual issues will not block completion of the deal. Trade talks resumed in recent weeks and intensified over the weekend.
"There are serious discussions in place," said Miller yesterday morning.
When asked about the option, and Garnett's willingness to play in Boston, Miller added: "Part of the discussion that is taking place is addressing those issues as well as others to see if the destination makes sense for all parties. Everything is part of the overall picture as to how to bring this to a conclusion or go in a different direction."
The Garnett trade and a draft night deal to acquire veteran shooting guard Allen should change the Celtics from a young, Eastern Conference bottom dweller to a much more experienced conference title contender. While the addition of Garnett, who averaged 22.4 points per game, 12.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists last season, would give Boston three All-Stars, the former NBA MVP comes at a high price financially and otherwise.
With the Celtics looking to keep Garnett in the fold beyond his current contract, a 3-4 year extension could be a pricey proposition, with the power forward's annual salary likely to fall around $20 million. That would be on par with what Pierce will earn in the coming years and not much higher than what Allen will receive. In other words, the Celtics easily could spend approximately $60 million per year on their top three players and find themselves well into luxury tax territory in the 2008-09 season.
But it may be worth the cost for executive director of operations/GM Danny Ainge, who recognizes the need to win big now though he might not admit that publicly. When Boston acquired Allen, Ainge talked about the team being in the "Paul Pierce cycle." If Garnett joins the squad as expected, Ainge will need a new slogan for a different kind of era than the one he had in mind earlier this month and the one he envisioned upon taking charge of the Celtics in May 2003.
At that time, Ainge talked about acquiring young, athletic talent, about the importance of the draft and player development. In recent months, he talked about maintaining continuity with Pierce and building around young players like Jefferson and Delonte West. The Celtics traded West to Seattle in the Allen deal. Now, they will trade Jefferson, a player Ainge and coach Doc Rivers found difficult to part with in the past, including in the pre-draft incarnation of the Garnett deal.
Back in June, the initial proposed deal for Garnett featured Jefferson, Ratliff, Szczerbiak, Telfair, and the No. 5 pick from the Celtics. In addition to concerns about Garnett opting out of his contract, Ainge and Co. were reluctant to trade Jefferson, while Minnesota was intent on acquiring the young power forward. Ainge said Jefferson was off limits on draft night and added he was not "actively pursuing a trade with Al Jefferson." But a second chance at Garnett proved too hard to resist.
Trading Jefferson signals the end of an era marked by the Celtics' extreme investment in youth. Potentially, the 22-year-old Jefferson has more than a decade of high-level play remaining if early performances are any indication of how good he can become. Many league observers believe Jefferson has All-Star potential, though ankle injuries slowed his progress early. Jefferson, along with Green and other young players, were viewed by the Celtics' brass and fan base as reasons for patience.
With Allen (32), Garnett (31), and Pierce (30 on Oct. 13), the Celtics theoretically have a 3-4 year window to compete for an Eastern Conference title. The roster thins considerably after the new big three. The deal would leave Boston with nine players under contract (Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, Rajon Rondo, Brian Scalabrine, Brandon Wallace) and in a position where it would need to fill three roster spots to reach the 12-player minimum. The Celtics still have not signed second-round picks Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis.
In the past, the Celtics hoped to translate potential to results on the floor. Now, they hope a team with three All-Stars will look as good on the floor for the next few seasons as it does on paper.
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.