LA Lakers: Could a Kevin Garnett-Kobe Bryant Duo Have Won Multiple NBA Rings?
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Imagine this: In 2007, Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale gets a call from Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. He wants Kevin Garnett and is willing to trade Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. McHale knows Garnett wants a ring and decides, after much thought, to pull the trigger.
Of course that didn’t happen. Depending on who you believe, the proposed deal fell through either because Garnett didn’t want to be a part of the Kobe Bryant-Phil Jackson feud or because McHale didn’t like the offer.
But let’s play the "What if?" game for a while. If Kevin Garnett became a Laker, is it possible that he and Kobe would have equaled what Pau Gasol and Kobe did? Let’s take a look and break down the last four seasons, starting with 2007-08.
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Kevin Garnett joins a Lakers team in exchange for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. He has Kobe, Derek Fisher, Kwame Brown, Luke Walton, Chris Mihm, D.J. Mbenga, Sasha, Jordan Farmar and Vladimir Radmanovic. Let’s assume the Lakers pulled the trigger trading for Trevor Ariza too, and Ariza still stayed on the injured list.
KG gives them the edge to neutralize Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer, while Kobe sacrifices parts of his game to help his team win. Imagine that year with the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year on the same squad.
However, imagine this starting lineup: Fisher, Kobe, Garnett, Kwame Brown and Radmanovic/Walton. Ariza would be solid off the bench, when he got healthy, with Ronny Turiaf and Mihm, but that doesn’t scream NBA title or inspire fear.
The Western Conference would’ve come down to them, New Orleans and San Antonio. I could see the Lakers getting to the Conference Finals that year, but I think they’d fall short because New Orleans or San Antonio would have had a much more solid supporting cast.
One thing is clear—Boston would still be waiting around for their first NBA title since 1986.
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With a year under their belts and Ariza healthy, the Lakers would’ve been the best defensive team in the league with a starting lineup of Derek Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Garnett and perhaps a better center plus more experience for Farmar, Shannon Brown and Vujacic. Maybe D.J. Mbenga comes around and gives the Lakers more minutes.
Bryant, Ariza and Garnett would give the Lakers three of the best defenders who could also make plays on offense. It’d arguably be the best defensive team Phil Jackson had since his late-1990s Bulls. With Garnett motivating the Lakers' bigs and perimeter players, just like Kobe would, nobody would dare take plays off and risk angering them.
The Lakers won 65 games that season with Pau Gasol. With Kevin Garnett in tow, they’d win 60-plus easily and cruise to the NBA Finals. Dwight Howard and the Magic would again be no match and driven by losing in 2008, Kobe would finally get that ring minus Shaq and Garnett would finally hoist the Larry O’Brien.
That’s one title in tow. Let’s move on to 2010.
The Lakers still let Trevor Ariza walk and sign Ron Artest, who’s motivated to get a ring and make Kobe work less on the defensive end. Perhaps the Lakers trade Jordan Farmar to Milwaukee for Amir Johnson.
Potential starters: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Garnett and Johnson. Reserves: Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and D.J. Mbenga.
Unlike Gasol, there would be no questions about KG’s toughness or coming up short in games. Their bench would still have question marks, but with Garnett and Kobe both commanding respect on both ends of the floor. Adding Artest would still make this one of the best defensive teams in the league.
The Lakers would fight their way through the West again, although Oklahoma City would still pose a threat. Let’s assume they would face Orlando or Cleveland in the NBA Finals. Since Orlando already lost in 2009, let’s look at Cleveland, shall we?
Two-time MVP LeBron James would have his way, but he’d have to rely on his teammates to bail him out because Kobe and KG would make it that much harder on Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal to do what they do.
If the 2010 Celtics with KG beat the Cavs in five games during the Eastern Conference Semis and the 2010 Lakers nearly beat the Celtics twice in the regular season before the Finals, there’s no reason to believe that a Kobe-KG Lakers wouldn’t beat the Cavs in six games.
That’s two rings for the duo. So far we’ve proven that Garnett’s impact is similar to Pau Gasol’s, but would be somewhat greater on the defensive end. Now, on to 2010-11.
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Knowing their time would be short, there would be a great urgency on the squad to capture one more ring. But old age and injuries would eventually catch up to them and this year would be a struggle.
Fisher, Kobe, Artest and KG would be part of the oldest rotation in the league. With Oklahoma City being dangerous, the Spurs balanced with youth and experience and Dallas determined to break through, it wouldn’t be easy.
History would still repeat itself, but the Lakers would probably lose to the Mavs in five or six games. Dirk Nowitzki would’ve worked harder to earn his points, but Jason Terry and J.J. Barea would have picked the Lakers’ bench apart from the perimeter.
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Kevin Garnett no doubt would have impacted the Lakers in the same way that Pau Gasol did and he and Kobe Bryant would have won multiple championships. Due to a weakened Western Conference and assuming several roster moves would’ve been the same, it’s not hard to imagine they would have done the same thing that the Gasol-Bryant Lakers did.
Losing Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom might have made them thinner on the bench and in the frontcourt, but adding Garnett’s intensity and his motivation to win a ring would’ve balanced it out. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Lakers would have won the same two rings and possibly might have won three.
Garnett would have made his mark as the latest Lakers big man to win a title, just like he restored the Celtics back to NBA relevancy. Kobe would have embraced a peer who had the same urgency and willingness to do whatever it took.
It’d be fun for Lakers fans to dream this, but I don’t think they’ll be too upset—for all of Pau Gasol’s flaws, he still has done more good than bad.