Looking back on it, Kevin Garnett was concerned it wouldn’t all work out.
It was 2007 and Garnett, coming off his 10th All-Star selection, had just been dealt to the Celtics as the final piece of an offseason shakeup in Boston that paired him with future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
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The expectation was a championship or bust for that group. Anything else would be a failure.
It wasn’t – and isn’t – a new scenario.
Forming star trios had been the well-worn formula for building championship teams for decades in the NBA. It dates back to the Celtics historic reign in the 1960s, to the Showtime Lakers ‘dominance in the 80s, to the Bulls’ six titles in the 90s.
Still, the 2007-08 season was the first time it had been done with such intention in the new millennium and the spotlight was shining bright on the Celtics. As much as then-Boston general manager Danny Ainge was the architect, it would be up to the players to make it work.
“I had a lot of confidence in myself. I had a lot of confidence in my ability. I think my big worries were how would I mesh with Paul? How would I mesh with Ray? How to mesh with some of their some of the young guys here? ” Garnett recalled last week. “Danny had a plan. I don’t know if that was the exact plan, but it worked out. And then having a future All-Star in the chamber with Rondo having so many complementary pieces made the team that much more special.”
The script in hand, they followed it to the NBA Finals that season and ultimately the Celtics’ 17th title.
The secret, Garnett said, was they all bought-in to the work and sacrifice it would take to realize their goal.
“I just think that we just fell right into the script,” he said. “Day 1. And we were just a bunch of guys who was from similar backgrounds, but we were all workers, so that was that was our connection. Everybody there was not a prima donna. Nobody was a diva.”
But the Big Three blueprint doesn’t guarantee success. This season is proving more than ever that star power on paper isn’t enough.
The Lakers have struggled since adding former MVP Russell Westbrook alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And in Year 2 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in Brooklyn doesn’t quite look like a foundation built to support a championship run.
The Nets are 29-24 but have essentially a part-time player in Irving who can only play in road games because of his refusal to comply with New York’s vaccine mandate. Durant has missed the last 11 games with a knee sprain and Harden is also currently out nursing a hamstring issue.
Los Angeles’ problems are two-fold. First, Westbrook’s style hasn’t jelled as well as the coaching staff would hope when paired with his All-Star counterparts. And knee injuries have kept both Davis and James out for stretches, preventing them from finding a rhythm.
With the trade deadline approaching and little assets to work with after dealing many pieces to land Westbrook, it appears a long shot that any meaningful roster moves can be made to fix things as the Lakers head down the stretch.
At just 26-28 entering Tuesday night’s matchup with Milwaukee, Los Angeles had won just four of its last six and was sitting in ninth place in the West.
James returned to action Saturday after missing five games and celebrated with a triple-double in the Lakers’ overtime win over the Knicks. But he acknowledged on Monday that the recent injury issues have been frustrating for everyone.
As an example he pointed to the renewed energy they had after their win on Jan. 25 win at Brooklyn in Davis’ first game back after a 17-game absence.
“I felt like it was a small dosage of what we could possibly see with the potential of our team and everybody getting back healthy,” James said.
He woke up two days later to find his knee “a total wreck.” He missed the next five games, the Lakers went 1-4 without him.
The Lakers have a chance this week to lay a foundation for the remainder of the season with matchups against the Bucks, Warriors and Jazz heading into the All-Star break.
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Meanwhile, Brooklyn is 2-9 since Durant went on the injured list with his knee issue. Irving has no plans to get vaccinated and coach Steve Nash conceded it could tough sledding until Durant returns.
“There’s a good chance we’re (in the range of the play-in tournament) after the All-Star break,” Nash said. “We’re not going to panic.”
Maybe not, but that means when talking championships remains to be seen.