I've mostly sat on the sidelines as the rumors of trade discussions involving Kevin Garnett and the Los Angeles Clippers have been swirling, but at this point those rumors have reached such a level that I feel compelled to weigh in. To recap the rumors in broad strokes, Sporting News first reported discussions between the Boston Celtics and the Clippers in mid-January, and with every team and every NBA reporter in Houston this weekend for the All Star Game and the trade deadline just five days away, there have been multiple additional rumors circulating the last couple of days. Any package for Garnett would almost certainly have to include Eric Bledsoe, the Clippers phenomenal 23 year old backup point guard, plus an additional player to make salaries meet. That player has been rumored to be Caron Butler by xxxxx, but the talk now seems to be centering on DeAndre Jordan.
Frankly, I can't help but be reminded of the run up to the Chris Paul trade when looking at the entire KG episode.
The Chris Paul trade was a no brainer. Of course we know with the benefit of hindsight it's obvious that it was a no brainer. But to some people (and I will proudly place myself in that group) it was always a no brainer. If you have a chance to trade for a superstar in his prime without giving up another superstar in his prime, you do it. (And before you scream that KG is not in his prime, I realize that and I'm getting there.)
The tendency among any fanbase is to become attached to the players and to overvalue them. I think even front offices do that, but fans clearly do it. Which is why the vast majority of trades you see on any blog are wildly favorable to the fan's team. Where NBA trades are concerned, the grass is greener on your side of the fence -- maybe because you're discussing moving that grass around.
So many in Clips Nation, while the Paul trade was in the rumor stage, were adamant that the Clippers shouldn't give up too much. Sure Paul is great, the reasoning went, but you can't give up the Minnesota pick AND Eric Gordon. That's just too much -- the Clippers would be better keeping those assets rather than doing business with the Hornets.
For my part, I knew that the Clippers had to do whatever it took, short of including Blake Griffin, to get the deal done. There was certainly an open question of overpaying compared to what the market for Paul was -- New Orleans had little leverage in the discussion and Paul was willing to opt in for his final contract year in LA and in few other places -- but there was never a question of worth. Chris Paul was clearly worth the pick AND Gordon AND Eric Bledsoe, let's be clear. The fact that the Clippers were able to get the deal done without including Bledsoe was something of a coup in retrospect, reflecting the position of strength the Clippers held in the negotiation.
Kevin Garnett is not Chris Paul, insofar as he is decidedly NOT in his prime. He is 36 years old, in his 18th NBA season. The age is one issue, but the years may be even more significant. Bear in mind that KG was at the very forefront of the new wave of high-school-to-NBA players, drafted by the Timberwolves in 1995, a year before the Lakers traded for Kobe Bryant on draft day. Garnett is signed through his 20th NBA season; plenty of players have played into their 40s -- only four have played at least 20 seasons.
Having said that, he is still a tremendous player. His PER for the past four seasons has hovered between 19.4 and 20.6. That's miles behind his salad days in Minnesota when he was posting PERs of 28 and 29, but it's still very good production and has been consistent for four years -- in other words, he's not showing signs of decline at this point.
More importantly, you have to realize that what Garnett does best isn't even reflected in PER. Garnett is still, at 36, a tremendous defensive player, and box score statistics do not come close to reflecting his true value.
Unfortunately, there really aren't any metrics that do a particularly good job of capturing defense, but let's take a look at the on/off stats from 82games.com, which at least tells us something about defense. When Garnett has been on the floor this season, the Celtics defense has allowed 100.2 points per 100 possessions, which is tremendous. When he's been off, they've allowed 109.7, which is not so tremendous.
Compare that to DeAndre Jordan, and we see that the Clippers are actually 8.1 points per 100 possessions WORSE defensively with Jordan on the court than when he's off the court. Now, I'm the first to admit that there's a LOT of noise in that number. Jordan is playing against the opponents starters, not to mention that the Clippers second unit has been absolutely incredible, as in best defensive fivesome in the league, this season. Every Clipper starter looks bad defensively when you look at their on/off stats because that second unit has been so great. Nonetheless, it's hard to ignore Garnett's impact on the Celtics' defense. He is, after all, playing against starters when he's on the floor also.
Garnett makes only slightly more than Jordan, less than Jordan and Bledsoe combined. He's signed for the same number of coming seasons as Jordan with the final season only partially guaranteed, so he provides the same security and more flexibility. Will he play when he's 38? Will he be any good? Those are risks to be sure, but big men have always aged better in the NBA, so it's certainly possible that he could still be quite productive at 38.
But if you're questioning whether he's better than DeAndre Jordan right now, you need to take off your Clipper-colored glasses.
As for Bledsoe, clearly he is a valuable asset and perhaps an even more valuable trade chip. But as we've said repeatedly, his value to the Clippers, while not insignificant, is limited by the inconvenient truth that he plays behind Chris Paul, and the fact that they are both around 6 feet tall. So for me it comes to a calculus similar to what we saw in the Paul trade. Is Garnett worth Jordan and Bledsoe? Yes. But you also have to consider whether the Clippers could get more for Jordan and Bledsoe.
But that's where the similarities to the Paul situation end, because unlike Paul who let it be known that he would enthusiastically accept a trade to the Clippers, Garnett seems to be making some very different noises. Garnett is one of the only players in the league with an actual "no trade" clause in his contract, so he has direct veto power over any potential trade (though of course Paul had almost as much power with his attitude toward his option year).
There have been some mixed signals along the way regarding KG's potential willingness to waive that clause and accept a trade to the Clippers. He lives in Malibu in the off season and is close to Clipper Chauncey Billups. Some reports have indicated that he would accept a trade to one of the LA teams but nowhere else.
But today in All Star media sessions, he stated pretty directly that he would NOT accept a trade away from the Celtics:
#Celticstalk : When asked if he would in any way waive his no-trade clause. "No," KG said. "If it's up to me, I'll live and die green."— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) February 16, 2013
When reminded that it was his call to make on being traded, Garnett said, "OK then. What we talking about?" #Celticstalk— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) February 16, 2013
In the past he's displayed loyalty to Paul Pierce, saying that he would not leave Pierce holding the bag in Boston, so maybe if Pierce were moved first his attitude would change. And maybe it's all just posturing -- it wouldn't be the first time that a player said one thing publicly while maneuvering to do the opposite behind the scenes.
Source repeats Kevin Garnett will only wave no-trade if Pierce is dealt, and only to LA team (lives in Malibu).— Shaun Powell (@Powell2daPeople) February 16, 2013
BUT, a no trade clause is something of a nuclear fly in this ointment. If you reach agreement on a deal and submit the trade to the league, only to have Garnett veto it, you've suddenly got the worst of both worlds -- damaging the Clippers excellent team chemistry without improving the team in any way. The Clippers need look no further than their own locker room to know what can happen to a player's outlook and confidence when he ends up back on a team that tried to publicly tried to trade him. The aborted Paul-to-the-Lakers deal almost ended Lamar Odom's career, and he still hasn't recovered completely despite a significant bounce back this season.
As with any trade discussion, there are a lot of moving parts here, a lot of considerations, a lot of possibilities. I like the team as constituted right now, and losing Bledsoe in a KG deal definitely stakes a lot on the health of Chauncey Billups, but there's little question in my mind that it would improve the team and it's chances of winning a title this season.
Having said that, that no trade clause scares the bejeezus out of me. I think the Clippers should and will continue to pursue this deal. (Why the Celtics would do it is a different question, but it would almost certainly be a part of a much bigger shakeup, since Bledsoe and Rondo and Avery Bradley make little sense together, not to mention the Pierce factor.) But unless they can get some assurances through back channels that Garnett is going to accept it, then they can't pull the trigger.