- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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You naturally want to know what happens next with Kevin Garnett.
Yet we all have to get in line behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, since they don't know either.
After all those years of rejecting outside interest, they've been working feverishly to trade Garnett for at least two weeks. Only now Minnesota faces the uncertainty of starting over when Free Agency Season commences at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, knowing it realistically needs at least two other teams to get involved to complete a trade of this magnitude ... and knowing it'll be even tougher to construct a digestible deal than it proved to be leading up to the first KG deadline, also known as the NBA draft.
Getting a deal done by Thursday night was so crucial because Minnesota's hope was to trade Garnett for at least one top-10 pick to go with the Wolves' own No. 7 selection, at least one payroll-slashing contract and at least one top-shelf youngster. Or another top-10 pick in place of the youngster.
Wolves VP Kevin McHale even half-admitted what he was going for when he spoke with Minneapolis reporters late Thursday night, saying: "If we had more picks, we would have [taken Al] Horford and [Joakim] Noah, too. We were working on that."
(Ask yourself this if you don't believe that the KG conversations leading up to the draft were as serious as advertised: Who could the Wolves trade, besides Garnett, to have a shot at either of those guys?)
McHale's new problem, of course, is that the draft choices he hoped would headline his return package on a Garnett deal have all been made by other teams. He'll have to assemble a different kind of deal now, unless Minnesota believes that Garnett can move past all this and return for training camp in October with his Wolf-for-life mantra restored to mint condition.
Exactly. The Wolves can't believe that'll happen, so they will resume efforts to trade him immediately.
Did someone say where?
The refreshed list of possibilities:
The Suns figure to remain at the forefront of the KG Sweepstakes because the desert, as ESPN.com reported last week, is where Garnett wants to end up if he's forced to leave his beloved Minnesota. If a deal gets close that doesn't involve the Suns, they'll almost certainly be given an opportunity to get in one final bid, given that Garnett continues to possess a considerable measure of input on where he lands because of his ability to become a free agent after next season.
The Suns' unwillingness to include Amare Stoudemire in any deal, though, might not even be the biggest obstacle preventing Garnett from playing alongside his little buddy Steve Nash. Finances are the larger challenge in Phoenix, especially now that a trade didn't happen before July 1, meaning that all of Garnett's trade kicker ($6.75 million) will be added to his $22 million salary for 2007-08.
So the post-draft list of prerequisites/challenges for the Suns to land Garnett, with the ability to sweeten a deal by throwing in one or two late first-round 2007 draft picks having perished, would contain at least three items:
1. Construct a deal that can accommodate a $28.75 million salary-cap number that somehow also keeps Stoudemire in Phoenix.
2. Keep looking for a side deal or two separate from the KG talks that shaves additional payroll.
3. Pull off 1 and 2 while hoping that Garnett is eventually amenable to a new contract at a salary less than what he makes now. (In the $15 million-a-year range, let's say) On one hand, there is a precedent for it: Garnett's previous contract carried a last-year salary of $28 million and he consented to starting his most recent extension with the Wolves at $16 million. On the other hand, Garnett has to be aware that the Lakers are said to be willing to give him a two-year, $45 million extension if he can force his way to L.A.
A list that daunting should explain the skepticism of new Suns GM Steve Kerr.
The good news? Phoenix still has an impressive cache of trade assets to lure participants into a multiteam arrangement, including Atlanta's unprotected first-round pick in the 2008 draft, and still has the Garnett-Nash connection to ensure KG's ongoing interest.
The bad news? As Kerr told reporters in Phoenix late Thursday night: "The Garnett thing, no matter who is involved in those talks, it's so difficult to even fathom because of the financial implications."
That Jason Richardson-to-Charlotte trade?
NBA front-office sources insist that was actually part of the Warriors' late bid on draft night to assemble their own three-team swoop for Garnett, with the Warriors and Bobcats deciding to go ahead with a smaller deal when it became apparent that there would be no draft-night blockbuster.
Said one rival executive who was also in the hunt: "Golden State thought they had KG."
Golden State really needed Richardson's salary to make a KG deal work. That $10 million trade exception created by his departure cannot be combined with other salaries in the Warriors' next KG proposal, which means they wouldn't appear capable of approaching Garnett's salary range without including Baron Davis in a deal. What would the Warriors really have if Davis isn't there to play with KG?
The Warriors' interest, however, remains undeterred. And they do have their own impressive cache of assets to force their way into any multiteam conversation, starting with coveted youngsters like Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and now Brandan Wright, who they acquired in the Richardson trade.
Chris Mullin has also created a good deal of payroll flexibility for himself by shedding Richardson, which created the $10 million trade exception Golden State could use to take back one of the Wolves' undesirable contracts (such as Marko Jaric or Troy Hudson) in a separate trade.
It's my belief that Garnett would not want to play in Golden State and that his representation would try to dissuade the Warriors from trading for him, by reminding them -- as seen with the Celtics -- of Garnett's ability to leave after one season.
Yet as one Warriors wiseacre is fond of reminding me, Garnett already comes to Oakland twice a season, so don't rule anything out.
And my longtime colleague Tim Kawakami of The San Jose Mercury News, who hawks Mullin as closely as anyone, contends that pretty much every move Mully makes "is done with an eye towards improving their position in Garnett talks."
If I were smarter, one team keeps telling me, I would have started this list with the Bulls. "Chicago is best positioned to [make a trade] for both Kobe [or] KG," this executive maintains.
With Kobe -- forgetting for a minute that the Lakers have less than zero interest in trading him -- I buy that claim because Chicago is where Kobe wants to go.
In KG's case? It's not because of Garnett's high school ties to Chicago, my exec says, but because the Bulls play in the conference Minnesota would prefer to deal with and because they possess their own stable of desirable youngsters that Minnesota can't ignore. The Bulls arguably have enough to deal directly with the Wolves, with Noah as the latest arrival and McHale having publicly stated his interest in him.
Yet even if the Bulls plug P.J. Brown into the deal via sign-and-trade -- the 37-year-old can't sign for less than three years in a sign-and-trade, but league rules stipulate that only one year must be guaranteed, which in effect creates an expiring contract -- Chicago will naturally attempt to keep Luol Deng (and probably Kirk Hinrich) off limits.
Is a package featuring Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha and maybe even Noah sufficient? Doesn't exactly compare to the haul that the inimitable Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune says Minnesota turned down a year ago: Tyson Chandler, Deng and the No. 2 pick in the draft.
The Celtics' acquisition of Ray Allen hasn't been met with overwhelming praise or glee from Bostonians, which can't be too surprising when Allen is almost 32 and coming off surgery on both ankles.
But give Danny Ainge this: Boston got an All-Star to join Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson without giving up their young big man or Theo Ratliff's expiring contract ... and by exiling KG's old foil Wally Szczerbiak.
The Celts, in other words, still have the two assets McHale covets most in a Garnett trade: Jefferson and the cap relief Ratliff represents. Garnett has made it rather clear than he doesn't want to play in Boston, but what if the Celtics wind up as his only other option besides returning to work for McHale and Wolves owner Glen Taylor?
Playing with Pierce and Allen might not seem so bad then, assuming Boston could be convinced to take on the tax-inducing expense of committing some $60 million a year to just three players.
Before the draft, Dallas had no shot at getting involved, with no expiring contracts and no good draft picks to peddle. Delete draft picks from the Wolves' equation Mavs have a chance now, primarily because Mark Cuban might be the only owner in this discussion who won't be mortified by the luxury-tax implications of importing Garnett. (Although even that's not a given, with Cuban's wild-spending days well behind him.)
The Mavs would naturally try to involve Austin Croshere and/or Keith Van Horn (yes, they still have Van Horn's Bird rights)) in the same sort of sign-and-trade arrangement described above with P.J. Brown to generate payroll relief for the Wolves. Yet it remains to be seen how the rest of the offer would look when Dirk Nowitzki isn't Dallas' only untouchable these days.
The Mavs, to date, insist that Josh Howard and Devin Harris are as close to untouchable as you can get. But it's difficult to envision Dallas making a legit run at KG without being asked to part with those two.
I suppose that's debatable if a top-shelf suitor like Phoenix pulls itself out of the running -- which hasn't happened yet, Suns folks say -- because of the cost involved. If the field thins, perhaps Dallas can concoct something that enables them to keep one of its young cornerstones.
But the message I keep getting is that Harris, seen in Big D as a long-term defensive counter to Tony Parker, is off-limits unless the Mavs find themselves in the midst of a Kobe trade.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported this week that Garnett is the one player whose arrival via trade could lead to the halting of the Trade Me campaign, which Bryant says won't otherwise stop until Jerry Buss does indeed move him.
So now you know why the Lakers won't abandon their KG dreams until they hear he's officially headed elsewhere.
The combo of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum could get the Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal right now -- Indiana is holding off on trading O'Neal to New Jersey or another club in hopes that the Lakers will change their stance and surrender those two -- but only Bynum works for the Wolves, with Minnesota not interested in absorbing Odom's contract.
The Lakers, then, will continue to ignore the limitations of what they have to offer and brainstorm for three- and four-team scenarios that might somehow work, since they heard it louder than anyone when McHale didn't exactly discourage new offers by saying: "[Garnett] is a member of our team right now. I assume he'll be a member of the team this fall."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Marc Stein looks at Kevin Garnett's situation and sees six places the Wolves star might land.