Even now, seven years later, you probably still remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned that Kevin Garnett — the Kevin Garnett — was joining the Celtics.
A five-for-one blockbuster deal with Minnesota sent the 10-time All-Star to Boston, and on July 31, 2007, Garnett was introduced at a news conference, flanked by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics’ new Big Three.
Just like that, a team that had won just 24 games the season before had reservations for the NBA Finals. Sportsbook.com gave the Celtics 5-2 odds to win the Eastern Conference (the favorite) and at 5-1 to win it all, behind only Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio.
Meanwhile, Garnett’s No. 5 jersey — he chose the number because he was drafted fifth overall in 1995 — became an immediate No. 1 seller, and Celtics season-ticket sales and sponsorship interest spiked.
“We still have things to prove,” Garnett said at the time. “But I will say this: We’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
There were skeptics.The Globe’s Bob Ryan wrote, “Someone actually thinks this Celtics team will win the East and contend for a championship? Really?”
But Garnett’s prophecy proved true: The Celtics completed a worst-to-first turnaround, won 66 games, and beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals for their 17th championship and first in 22 years.
In all six seasons that Garnett wore green, the Celtics reached the playoffs. That streak ended this season, when the Celtics won just 25 games after trading Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets before the season.
And now, the Celtics are entering an offseason much like the one they had prior to acquiring Garnett, and there is hope among fans that the Celtics can repeat their foundation-shaking summer of 2007 by landing another big-name player (or two) that will take the team straight to the top again.
Expectations might even be higher after Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said he expects “fireworks” with regard to offseason moves, a phrase that could easily be translated into the acquisition of another franchise-changer.
But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said that he doesn’t feel he has to live up to the deal his team made the last time the Celtics were in this situation
“I don’t think that would be very smart, to put pressure on myself,” Ainge told the Globe. “That doesn’t make any sense, [because] then you sometimes make bad deals. We want to do good deals.
“I understand that we have an opportunity [this summer], but we’ve still got to find trading partners. I don’t think people understand how difficult trades can be sometimes. That one happened to work out and we were very fortunate that Minnesota was moving in a different direction, that they loved Al Jefferson, and so we were able to get a deal done. But there’s been a lot of deals that I thought we had a way better chance of doing that we couldn’t end up doing.”
Jefferson, the former Celtics center who was shipped to the Timberwolves as part of a package for Garnett, looks back on that deal and applauds it.
“If I was Danny Ainge, I would’ve done the same thing,” Jefferson, now with the Charlotte Bobcats, said recently. “It was a no-brainer, to be honest with you.”
The Celtics would love to make another swap of that ilk — and it just so happens that the Timberwolves have another top-flight big man in Kevin Love who might be looking to move — but Ainge will tread lightly.
“We’re not going to let pressure dictate what we’re doing or panic with what we’re doing or try to live up to any unrealistic expectations,” Ainge said. “We’re going to be in the market and we’re going to be trying to do deals and do good ones, if they’re available.”
For the sake of comparison, Ainge said he believes the Celtics are better positioned now than they were heading into that summer in 2007, specifically because they possess more assets such as draft picks. They’ll have as many as 17 picks over the next five years, including 10 in the first round.
“We just have a lot more draft picks, and draft picks are valuable to a lot of teams,” Ainge said. “Draft picks are always tradable, and players aren’t, [sometimes] because of contracts or different views of players or just making the math work.”
At the February trade deadline, the Celtics stood pat and Ainge said that they felt no pressure to force anything partly because they can fall back on those assets. He said his thinking along those lines hasn’t changed much.
“We’ve got to do good deals,” Ainge said. “We can’t force things to happen. Yeah, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just as intrigued as anybody else. I have some ideas as do all the guys on my staff. We’ll sit down and see what’s realistic and have conversations with other teams in preparation for the offseason, but none of us know what’s going to happen.”
Does Grousbeck’s “fireworks” comment make Ainge push harder to make something happen?
“No, listen, I know Wyc and I love working with him,” Ainge said. “We all care about the Celtics fans and our fan base and our partners and our players and our coaches — everybody wants to win and be a championship contender every year.
“Wyc knows that we’re sitting in a good situation. We just have to be working to explore every opportunity that we can. I think we’re all excited for the possibilities, and yet I think Wyc is rational and when it comes down to it, he’ll only do deals that he likes.”
It can be easy to look back on the 2007 deal and assume that adding another MVP-caliber player will again transform the Celtics into contenders. Ainge said that isn’t so.
“Listen, I’m grateful we were able to do that deal,” he said, “but that deal was unique in so many ways. In one way [we were] getting quality players that still had a lot left in the tank in Ray and KG — as they’ve proven — [along with] keeping Paul. But the fact [is] that they complemented each other so well. Their games, they all needed each other. You had Ray, who was a catch-and-shoot guy. You had Paul, who was sort of a go-to guy. You had KG, who was defense, rebound, unselfish, the consummate team guy. The pieces fit so perfectly. That’s a big part of it, too. It’s not just talent.”
Ainge also said that Celtics fans are smart enough to realize that deals like the ones that happened in 2007 don’t come along every day.
“We’re going to try, and our objectives are championships,” Ainge said. “But I’m not going to do deals just to do deals. We have a lot of assets that we should have a lot of conversations. Conversations sometimes lead to deals, sometimes it doesn’t.”
At the very least, the summer of 2007 gave the Celtics a blueprint for how to go from rebuilding mode to title contender almost overnight. They’ll go for a repeat if they can, though it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to deliver the “fireworks” that some fans might be craving.