ON THE MORNING of the draft, in the midst of making and taking scores of calls at the team's Waltham offices, Ainge found an apparent trading partner: Sam Presti, the Sonics' new general manager, who told Ainge that he was willing to move Allen, with the three years and $52 million remaining on his contract, in exchange for young talent and cap flexibility—needs similar to those of the Timberwolves. While his staff quickly ran a background check to verify Allen's health (he had had surgery in April to remove bone spurs in both ankles), Ainge hit a wall in his negotiations with Presti: The Seattle G.M. said he wouldn't consummate the deal without including Rondo. "I was never going to do that," says Ainge, who values the athleticism, defense and potential leadership of his second-year point guard.
Several hours later—late afternoon on the East Coast—Presti reopened the door. In place of Rondo, he agreed to take West, a tough, sharpshooting combo guard, plus the already agreed upon No. 5 pick and Szczerbiak, who would provide scoring in the short term and cap space when his contract expired in 2009. The Celtics got Allen and a second-round pick, which they would use that night to take LSU forward Glen (Big Baby) Davis.
Initial reaction to the trade was far from complimentary to Boston. Frank Hughes of The News Tribune
in Tacoma, Wash., made a lap of the reporters at the draft and wrote, "The general consensus was that the 30-year-old Presti fleeced Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, [who was] trying desperately to hold onto his and coach Doc Rivers's jobs."
The response was quite different within the Celtics family, and no one was happier than Pierce. "Danny had been asking me about Ray, Shawn Marion and a few other guys and what I thought of them," says Pierce. "I thought Ray was a better fit because he's a prototype two-guard and I can go play the three." But as team officials celebrated the arrival of Allen, who had a career 21.5 scoring average and the purest jump shot in the league, Rivers and other staffers figured there was no more hope of acquiring Garnett. Ainge felt otherwise: He had held fast to Jefferson and Ratliff as well as a conditional No. 1 pick from Minnesota (acquired in a 2006 trade) as chips to use in a long-shot bid to get Garnett.
IN THE DAYS following the draft, Garnett, who had been steadfast in wanting to finish his career in Minnesota, learned of Taylor's intention to rebuild with a younger, cheaper roster. "The weekend after the draft is when he started to say, 'O.K., let's explore what the situation is,'" says Miller. Suitors quickly fell by the wayside: Garnett soured on the Lakers because of Kobe Bryant's trade demands, and another potential deal involving the Suns collapsed. Other interested teams, such as the Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors, weren't offering the package of youth, size, cap flexibility and draft picks that Ainge was willing to put up.
And Garnett was growing more intrigued with the Celtics. First, he had never played with teammates as talented as Pierce and Allen, with whom he could instantly contend for the Eastern Conference championship. Second, he had a friendship with Allen dating back to their high school days in South Carolina. "I didn't speak publicly, really didn't say too much to my friends or any of that," says Garnett. "But I really tried to be comfortable with seeing myself in a Celtics jersey."
He had no idea how Pierce felt about it, however. Garnett has an off-season home in Malibu, and before the draft—amid widespread reports of his possible trade to Boston—he had run into Pierce in a pickup game at UCLA, where Pierce, an L.A. native, is a regular. Yet Pierce had nothing to say to KG about their potentially becoming teammates. "He didn't even bring it up," says Garnett, confused by Pierce's seeming lack of enthusiasm.
The truth was, Pierce did not give any credence to the rumors, having been let down too many times by talk of everyone from Baron Davis to Allen Iverson coming to his rescue in Boston. So he rolled his eyes at the buzz about Garnett joining the Celtics. "I just thought there was no possible way," says Pierce, "and left it at that."
ON JULY 5, Ainge and McHale reconnected at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Ainge continued to pepper McHale with proposals for Garnett, and McHale continued to listen. "Kevin never played his hand [as if to say], This is something we're really interested in," says Ainge, "but he never gave me reason to lose hope."
For more than three weeks Ainge and McHale talked off and on—as many as five conversations on some days, having in-house deliberation on others—as McHale tried to squeeze the maximum out of the deal. The framework was settled quickly: Jefferson and Ratliff were mainstays, Ainge was willing to return the conditional No. 1 pick plus another, and Green, a swingman with 20-point potential, and Gomes, a second-year forward who played like a veteran, were in play.