When the Los Angeles Lakers take the floor to open the 2021-22 season, they’ll be led by the new “Big 3” of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and newly-acquired Russell Westbrook. Of course, this won’t be the first “Big 3” in the NBA, and it certainly won’t be the last. One of the most famous “Big 3” groups in somewhat recent memory was the trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, who led the Boston Celtics to a win over the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals. Of course, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, got their revenge two years later, but that’s not our main focus today.
No, today, what we’re looking at is how two-thirds of that Celtics “Big 3,” specifically Garnett and Pierce, were actually part of the process that helped the Lakers bring Westbrook to LA. To get even more specific, the infamous trade in which Boston effectively ripped off the Brooklyn Nets in 2013 by shipping the two aging stars out of town eventually led to Russ coming home to Hollywood?
Ready to connect some dots?
The infamous 2013 trade between the Celtics and Nets involving Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce
At the end of the 2012-13 NBA season, it was clear the Celtics were heading in the wrong direction. One year earlier, they’d been in the Eastern Conference Finals and took the Miami Heat’s “Big 3” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh — not to mention Allen, who’d jumped ship the previous offseason — to seven games. But Boston then went just 41-40 in 2012-13 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Knicks.
Both Pierce and Garnett were still productive NBA players at this time, but their best years were clearly behind them. Garnett turned 37 in May 2013 and had just wrapped his 18th NBA season, and Pierce, who’d just finished season number 15, was set to turn 36 in October.
Enter the Brooklyn Nets.
Looking to add some experience to a fairly young team that included the likes of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, it seemed as if the Nets, who also lost in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, thought experienced champions like Garnett and Pierce could be the final pieces to their championship puzzle, which obviously didn’t turn out to be the case.
Seeing how desperate the Nets seemed, the Celtics acquired a number of draft picks by sending their aging stars to Brooklyn in July 2013. Specifically, Boston sent Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White, and a second-round pick in 2017 to Brooklyn in exchange for Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, first-round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
The Celtics exercised their swap option in 2017, which led to the Lakers getting Kyle Kuzma
The Celtics used the draft picks they received from the Nets in several ways (some good, some bad) and chose to exercise their swap option in 2017, which initially gave them the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The Celtics then traded that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick, which they used on Jayson Tatum, and a future first-rounder.
In turn, the Nets received the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. However, they agreed to send that pick and Brook Lopez to the Lakers in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. With deals not able to be finalized until after the draft, the Nets chose for the Lakers that night and selected Kyle Kuzma.
Now you see where we’re going with all of this, right?
Kuzma was essentially the key piece that helped bring Russell Westbrook to the Lakers
Kuzma proved to be a valuable asset for the Lakers in his four seasons with the team, averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but also proved valuable in his exit from the franchise. The Lakers had refused to include Kuzma in previous deals, including the one that brought Anthony Davis to Hollywood, but finally parted ways with him to acquire Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards in what turned out to be a five-team trade that also involved the Nets, Pacers, and Spurs.
Kuzma was clearly one of the key pieces in the deal that brought Westbrook to the Lakers, and it wasn’t just because of his skill level. His $13 million annual salary also added to the pot as the Lakers tried to get as close to Westbrook’s salary as they could to make the deal work overall.
So let’s run this back. If the Celtics don’t trade Garnett and Pierce, there’s no option to swap picks with the Nets. And if the Celtics don’t exercise that option, the Nets likely don’t make the trade for D’Angelo Russell, which means the Lakers don’t get Kyle Kuzma.
And without Kuzma, they likely don’t have the assets to trade for Russell Westbrook. So if this whole Westbrook “Big 3” with LeBron and AD leads to an 18th NBA championship for LA, the Celtics might just deserve a little “thank you” from Lakers fans. It’s almost kinda like that “thank you” they had to give Larry Bird when the Lakers won the title in 2020.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference