By this point, the story of how the Los Angeles Lakers paired Kobe Bryant with Pau Gasol is well-known. Bryant had been disgruntled because of a lack of winning since Shaquille O’Neal’s departure, even threatening to leave or request a trade on several occasions.
Instead, the Lakers went out and got Gasol, a future Hall of Famer and one of the best big men in the NBA at the time. L.A. went on to win two championships and make three finals in three years. Their only Finals loss came in Gasol’s first year with the Lakers, against Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics.
In the offseason prior to Gasol joining the Lakers, Garnett — and Ray Allen — were traded to the Celtics to team up with Paul Pierce, creating a dominant big three. The trio won a championship in 2008 and lost to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.
Since the retirements of all of these players, stories have surfaced about how Garnett — prior to the Celtics trade — was hoping to team up with Bryant on the Lakers instead of Gasol. The Hall of Fame forward went into greater detail in a recent interview with Michael Pina of GQ:
Garnett had reservations about going to play in Boston, even after speaking to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. That’s partly because before he made a final decision, he wanted to talk with Kobe. The only problem: Bryant was touring China for Nike and, from Garnett’s point of view, couldn’t be bothered to discuss a future as teammates. “I needed to have a conversation with him. I couldn’t talk to Phil [Jackson, then coach of the Lakers] or none of that. I’m not a phone guy, you know what I’m saying? But it’s [Kobe], you know what I’m saying? It was just kind of water under the bridge. At least it felt like that.”
Garnett also recalled the first time he spoke with Bryant following the Celtics trade, hinting that Bryant may have been disappointed in him not coming to the Lakers.
Garnett then launches into a story about the first time he saw Bryant after becoming a Celtic, quickly staging a one-man show in which he played both parts at two opposite volumes and temperaments.
“‘YO, MAN, YOU WAS TRYING TO GET IN CONTACT WITH ME?’ ‘Man, get the fuck outta here.’ ‘NAH, NAH, I’M SERIOUS, MAN. I GOT THIS SHIT LATE, MAN. DAMN MAN.’ ‘It’s all good.’ ‘NAH, IT AIN’T GOOD, YOU IN THAT WRONG COLOR, MAN. WHAT THE FUCK, MAN. HOW YOU GONNA GO TO BOSTON OF ALL PLACES.’ ‘Man, nah, you gotta chill.’”
Garnett then sits back. “It was all good. I always loved playing against [Kobe]. But yeah, it probably would have been a different level playing with him.”
If these stories are all true, then this does become a very fascinating “what if.” If the Lakers trade for Garnett during the 2007 offseason, the NBA landscape changes entirely. The Celtics would have to turn elsewhere to form their big three or throw away the entire idea.
The Lakers likely made the right move holding out for Gasol. He was 27 at the time of the trade and Garnett was 31. Perhaps the Lakers win in 2008 instead of the Celtics, but winning another one or two championships may not have been possible.
As interesting a scenario as this is, both the Lakers and Celtics can look back and feel as though they won.
Gasol: Playing for the Lakers was an honor
Gasol also recently got the chance to speak about the trade to the Lakers and his time in L.A.
“It provided just a completely different feel,” Gasol said. “Playing with Kobe [Bryant] was something very unique and something I will be forever grateful.”
“And also the rest of the guys. Derek [Fisher], Lamar [Odom], Andrew [Bynum], Sasha [Vujacic], Jordan [Farmar], Luke [Walton]. All the guys that I played with in a Lakers uniform, we knew we were part of something special. We knew that being part of the Lakers franchise was an honor. Being part of the Lakers family was an honor. We had a sense of a higher responsibility beyond yourself as a player.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!