When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett, the team was looking to the future. The championship hopes had died with the inglorious exits of Sam Cassell, Flip Saunders and Latrell Sprewell. Garnett, still a legit All-NBA performer at age 31, was the last vestige of the glory days of the Wolves. Outside of KG, the cupboards were mostly bare: the 2006-07 Minnesota team leaders in minutes played other than Garnett were Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Trenton Hassell. The best prospects on the team were Randy Foye and Rashad McCants. This was a destitute team with one megastar on the marquee, a squad heading nowhere.
Garnett would be a free agent in 2008, and despite remaining fiercely loyal to small market Minneapolis throughout his career, the Wolves feared he'd be poached away. So the team, led by GM Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor, made the difficult decision to trade him if they could find the right deal.
You almost never find the right deal when you're trading away an NBA superstar. But even by those standards, even taking into account the difficult parameters any trade of KG would entail, even setting expectations on the return fairly low, the Timberwolves really mucked the move up.
Well, Minnesota didn't so much muck up the trade and it mucked up everything after the trade.
On paper: the Timberwolves traded Garnett to the Boston Celtics for
That's seven assets for one, which should tell you how much better than everyone else involved Garnett was at the time. Ratliff was eventually waived by the Wolves; he was Boston's big trade chip for the 2006-07 season, and would have been heading into 2007-08's trade deadline if the Celtics hadn't dealt him. McHale could have used him as a trade chip of its own, but instead wiped him off the books.
Green was as much a disaster in Minneapolis as he'd been in Boston, if not moreso. The highlight of his Wolves career was easily his Birthday Cake dunk during the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. The Wolves eventually dropped him for a dead contract and a 2010 second-round pick, which became the rights of Paulao Prestes, who is know 23 years old and is still not in the NBA.
Telfair helped Minnesota to some bad records before being dumped by McHale's replacement David Kahn on the L.A. Clippers with Craig Smith (a useful player) and Mark Madsen (uhh ...) for Quentin Richardson, who was flipped for Mark Blount, which saved the Wolves a few bucks. In a revisitation of the Garnett trade, calling Telfair an asset is probably inaccurate.
So Ratliff, Green and Telfair -- three of the seven pieces Minnesota received -- have amounted in the four years since to a 23-year-old Brazilian prospect taken in the second round at age 22 and still playing in Spain. This is not a good start.
But the best bits are left to come. There's Minnesota's own first-round pick in 2009, which had been sent to Boston in the disastrous (for EVERYONE) Wally Szczerbiak trade. It's funny that no one won the Wally trade (on account of every player involved -- Blount, Marcus Banks, Michael Olowakandi, Ricky Davis) being dreadful ... until Boston was able to pawn the Wolves' own pick back to them to incent them to trade Garnett. So the Wally trade was good for something, eventually.
The Wolves got the 2009 pick back and ... used it on Jonny Flynn, who would be considered the biggest non-injury draft bust since Darko Milicic (a former Flynn teammate!) if not for Hasheem Thabeet (a current Flynn teammate!). (Yes, Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet now play for the same team. This is why we have the NBA lockout.)
Flynn was a grade-A disaster on the court, and Kahn -- who made the mistake of drafting him -- pawned him off on the Houston Rockets in a convoluted set of trades that resulted in Minnesota landing a Brad Miller who has been flirting with retirement (for good reason) and the opportunity to replace the team's No. 20 pick in 2011 (acquired in the Al Jefferson you'll read about below) for Houston's first-round pick in 2013, which is lottery-protected forever and will become a second-round pick in 2016 if not already conveyed.
The Wolves also took the Celtics' 2009 pick, and Kahn used it on Wayne Ellington, who is a perfectly serviceable back-up shooting guard, which unfortunately are widely available and cheap. This rates as a fair pick given how low it was; you can't expect much more from the No. 28 choice. But McHale understood this wouldn't be a great asset when the KG trade went down: you add Garnett to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and you're not expecting a high pick.
Ryan Gomes was serviceable in Minnesota, just as he was serviceable in Boston and remains serviceable in Los Angeles. Needing to upgrade its perimeter game -- Gomes is a mid-range and in scorer -- in 2010 Kahn sent Gomes and the rights to Luke Babbitt (a No. 15 pick) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Martell Webster. Martell Webster was able to start one game for the 17-win Timberwolves last season.
The final and most important piece, that which only the Celtics and no other team could offer, was the Garnett replacement: Al Jefferson. To suggest he would be a replacement even back then, when Big Al was just 22, was unfair. He was a promising young power forward with skills, a good attitude and size. But he wasn't close to what Garnett had been at age 22. You could see Al becoming a regular All-Star, but not a regular MVP candidate, which KG had been. That's why all of those other inducements were required at minimum: Jefferson would do, but he could never replace Garnett.
As it turns out, he couldn't even substitute for Garnett. While Jefferson performed well enough to earn a $60 million extension from Minnesota, he didn't make it to legit All-Star consideration. McHale pulled off his best move since drafting Garnett in the 2008 NBA Draft, picking up Kevin Love, who has emerged as a legit challenger to Derrick Rose as the best player from that derby. The problem, of course, was that Love was a power forward, like Jefferson. The Wolves' coach Randy Wittman couldn't figure out how to use them properly, and before anyone else could try, McHale was jettisoned for Kahn. Kahn's hand-picked coach Kurt Rambis managed to alienate both Jefferson and Love (impressive!), and by the 2010 offseason, given Love's impressive first two seasons and Jefferson's plateaued development on awful teams, the writing was on the wall: Jefferson would have to go.
While the Flynn pick in 2009 was a fine appetizer, this is really where McHale's Misfire became Kahn's Self-Inflicted Armageddon. Kahn traded Jefferson, a 25-year-old double-double power forward with a not-outrageous contract for Kosta Koufos, two first-round picks and ... oh, that's it. That was it. Basically three mid-firsts, one of which had been spent on a guy who couldn't knock Kyrylo Fesenko out of the rotation.
Koufos continued to struggle in Minnesota, yielding playing time to the murderer's row of Darko, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Tolliver. The 2011 pick was used in the Jonny Flynn trade, so if you squint you can say that the Wolves traded Jefferson and Flynn for Koufos, a 2012 non-lottery pick (it is protected much like the Houston one), a 2013 non-lottery pick and a Brad Miller who will probably spend next season hunting boars in the Yukon.
Kahn would argue that by trading Jefferson when he did, he also opened up playing time for Love (who became an All-Star) and cap space used to acquire Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. But that ignores that Kahn never hired a passable coach to give Jefferson and Love a shake together, and that there was no pressing need to drop Jefferson ASAP (the Wolves weren't going to become a playoff team either way) and that the Wolves had or could have had the cap space to take on Beasley and Randolph anyways! And consider that using Kahn's rationale means he traded a power forward to make space for a power forward and also trade for two more power forwards. The argument bounces violently between inane and insane.
So there's the final tally, as described in the graphic above: between the collective moves of McHale and Kahn, the Wolves ended up getting for Kevin Garnett the grand sum of: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Brad Miller, Kosta Koufos, two first-round picks that will never be in the top 10 and could end up as second-round picks and a 23-year-old Brazilian who isn't widely considered to be NBA material.
The Timberwolves have ensured that Boston will never, ever, ever regret that trade.
NBA Trade Vault will be back on Wednesday with the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris switcheroo.