Nine Years Ago Today…

Jan 12, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. The Thunder defeated the Timberwolves 101-96. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 12, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. The Thunder defeated the Timberwolves 101-96. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Do you remember what happened on July 31, 2007?

Nine years ago today the Boston Celtics were excited about the idea of Ray Allen joining a team that went 24-58 the year before. Earlier in the summer, Danny Ainge masterfully pulled off the trade of the offseason to put the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Then, Ainge changed the immediate future of the Boston Celtics in one move.

On July 31, 2007, one of the biggest trades in NBA history took place. Boston was able to make their second blockbuster trade of the summer, this time acquiring Kevin Garnett. The 10-time All-Star spent his first 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves before joining the Celtics. He was coming off his fourth straight season leading the league in rebounds per game and fifth straight season leading in total rebounds.

It was a move that ended up costing the Celtics seven players, but, in return, it brought them their 17th championship. Boston had to give up Gerald GreenAl Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two future first round picks – Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn.

There was a lot of potential in that group, however, none of them turned out to be even close to the player Garnett was at the time. If the Timberwolves selected Steph Curry instead of Jonny Flynn then the trade wouldn’t have been a complete mess for Minnesota, but, either way, it was the right move for the Celtics at the time.

Garnett instantly became a fan favorite. The same passion he played with in Minnesota was brought to Boston and it became infectious to the rest of the team and the city. Garnett never averaged a double-double or 20 points per game with the Celtics, but his leadership and willingness to accept his role next to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce was much bigger than the numbers he put up.

The Allen trade changed the Celtics from a bottom-dweller to a potential playoff team. Ray Allen would finally relieve some of the pressure off Pierce’s shoulders, and it was expected that Pierce would appear in more than the 47 games he played in during the 2006-07 season.

Although, the Garnett trade changed how Boston was being looked at, and changed the NBA. The addition of Garnett formed the original ‘Big 3’ and made the Celtics instant favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Pierce had never had help like he was going to have in 2007-08, and with a sharpshooter like Allen and an elite big man in Garnett, Boston was considered a super team.

While Danny Ainge didn’t throw money at three superstars like NBA teams do nowadays, the Garnett trade ushered in the Big 3 era we’re in right now. Every team is trying to find three players that can lead them. If you don’t have a Big 3 then you’re not considered a true contender.

However, at the time of the trade no one thought about how this could impact the future of the league. The idea of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh forming their own Big 3, with Ray Allen later joining them, never crossed anyone’s mind. Or that Kevin Durant would join the Golden State Warriors and form their own super team. Of course, why would it? The idea that super teams would become more common every season never crossed Boston’s mind – Celtics fans were just overjoyed that the wait for Banner 17 might finally be over after a 22 year wait.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The impact that Garnett and Allen made was immediate. Usually teams who add multiple stars need time to learn how to play with each other and share the ball. That’s why the Heat started out 9-8 during the first year of their Big 3 before rattling off 12 straight wins. Although, the Celtics weren’t like that.

Boston won their first eight games and went an incredible 29-3 to start the season. The Celtics ended up winning the conference with a 66-16 record. It speaks highly of the professionalism that Pierce, Allen and Garnett had, and the coaching job by Doc Rivers can’t be undermentioned. Despite the two blockbuster trades, for a team who won 24 games the year prior and who was coming off three losing seasons in the past four years, 66 wins was impressive.

The Celtics battled hard in the playoffs with seven-game series wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, and a six-game series win over the Detroit Pistons. Then, what better way to try to cap off a magical season than against their arch rival the Los Angeles Lakers.

Led by Pierce and Allen’s 20-plus points per night and Garnett’s double-double average, the Celtics took three of the first four games before defeating the Kobe Bryant led Lakers in six games. They outlasted the 25.7 points per game that Bryant put up, and the double-double Pau Gasol averaged.

The Celtics ended the 22-year drought.

Obviously it was more than just the Big 3. Rajon Rondo, James Posey, Kendrick Perkins and more, all had a role.

Although, Pierce was still the player who was drafted by the Celtics 10th overall in 1998, the player who was named to his sixth All-Star team in 2008. As happy as everyone was for Pierce, who dealt with years of hardship with the Celtics, everyone knew this wasn’t possible without Allen, and especially Kevin Garnett.

And Garnett’s enthusiasm and pure joy of finally winning a title after so many years in the league will always be remembered.

Big things were thought to be in store for the Celtics following their championship run. It was the first year the Big 3 was together and they already won an outstanding 66 games and ran the table. At least one more title was expected.

Boston ended up winning 62 games the next season and lost in the Eastern Conference Semis. They ended up making it back to the NBA Finals in 2009-10, however, the Lakers got their revenge. Boston was still a competitor through the 2012-13 season, although each season they became a little less intimidating to the rest of the league as age started to catch up.

In 2013, unexpectedly, Danny Ainge dealt Garnett, Pierce and others to the Brooklyn Nets for what’s now considered one of the best trades in NBA history. It landed them salary filler veterans and two future first round picks with the right to swap first round picks in 2017. At the time, no one wanted to see the Big 3 era end. Many felt there was still one last run in them, although once Allen bolted for Miami, Ainge knew the time to start over was now.

In hindsight, the trade was a steal. So far it has landed the Celtics Jaylen Brown with the third pick in this year’s draft and the Celtics are coming off a 48-win season with a good chance to land back-to-back number one picks in the coming drafts. Although, at the time, it was hard to watch the Celtics blow up the team that brought them a championship in 2008, and admit that their glory days were behind them.

It became official when Doc Rivers was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Celtics hired Butler University coach Brad Stevens.

Allen spent two years in Miami, winning one more ring. He’s not officially retried but he hasn’t played in the past two seasons. Although, there has been rumors that he might be interested in coming back for a title run with the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Pierce spent a season in Brooklyn, Washington and most recently reunited with former coach Doc Rivers in Los Angeles. His game has rapidly been on the decline and there’s uncertainty about how much longer he’ll play. Although, Rivers came out this past week and said that he would waive Pierce and let him retire a Celtic.

Garnett spent a year and a half in Brooklyn before being traded back to his original team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in 38 games last season, averaging 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but a 22nd season is very possible. He’s a great mentor on one of the most promising, young teams in the NBA, and his lessons have surely been extremely helpful for budding star Karl-Anthony Towns.

Now as the Celtics are gearing up for another championship run in the near future led by Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Big 3 era is a thought of the past. It’s always fun to reminisce about the ups-and-downs Boston endured during that era, how one championship seems like a underachievement for the talent those teams held, and how the Garnett trade changed the NBA by implementing this Big 3 mindset.

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In the end, though, it’s crazy to think that nine years ago today the Boston Celtics just added the final piece to their 17th championship team.