There was a growing sentiment around the league Tuesday night that the Kevin Garnett sweepstakes are nearing a conclusion and that the Phoenix Suns are the most likely winners, with two trade scenarios emerging that could potentially land Garnett in the desert by draft night.
With the Los Angeles Lakers' attempts to construct a multi-team deal or a direct trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves collapsing, ESPN's Jim Gray reports that talk of a potential three-team trade that would involve Minnesota, Boston and Phoenix has been rekindled, in which the primary cost to the Suns would be All-Star forward Shawn Marion moving to the Celtics.
Yet an even bigger trade concept, ESPN.com has learned, was hatched Tuesday by the Wolves, in which Phoenix would likely be asked to trade away the player it has been trying not to trade, All-NBA center Amare Stoudemire, who would go to the Atlanta Hawks.
Either way, indications from various NBA front-office sources suggest that Garnett being moved in conjunction with Thursday's draft looks more likely than ever before, with the Suns -- identified by ESPN.com last week as KG's first choice for a new home -- in prime position to make the big score.
In the scenario reported by Gray, Garnett would go to Phoenix, Boston would land Marion and the Wolves would receive a package featuring the No. 5 overall pick in Thursday's draft along with undisclosed players from the Celtics and Suns.
The key stumbling block for Boston would be Marion's reluctance to play for the Celtics, which sources say was conveyed to both teams last week when the idea of a three-team trade involving these clubs was first made public. With Marion possessing the right to opt out of his contract after next season and become a free agent in July 2008, Boston would undoubtedly be seeking assurances from Marion's camp that he's interested in signing an extension with the Celtics, even though league rules technically would preclude such negotiations until after July 1 (and after the trade).
Another possible stumbling block: Minnesota, sources say, has been adamant that any trade with Boston would include Al Jefferson. The Celtics, in turn, are willing to part with Jefferson only if they're the team that gets Garnett. It remains to be seen if either side softens its stance in the final hours before the draft.
In the newer trade scenario, sources say, Minnesota is looking to acquire Atlanta's No. 3 and No. 11 picks in the draft along with several cap-friendly contracts from the Hawks and Suns. To participate, Atlanta wants Stoudemire from Phoenix.
Such a trade would hold significantly greater appeal to Minnesota than any Celtics' offer that didn't include Jefferson. The Hawks, meanwhile, would be able to reunite Stoudemire with ex-Suns teammate Joe Johnson and immediately field a promising big-and-small core to build around and make Atlanta competitive, given the current state of the Eastern Conference.
The Suns, though, are understandably reluctant to part with Stoudemire after he made the All-NBA first team in what appears to be the most successful comeback from microfracture knee surgery that the NBA has ever witnessed.
The Lakers, meanwhile, haven't abandoned all hope of partnering Garnett with the increasingly frustrated Kobe Bryant just yet. Another concept in circulation Tuesday raised the possibility of a multi-team trade in which the Indiana Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal would go to Atlanta, with Lakers forward Lamar Odom and young center Andrew Bynum heading to the Pacers. That package, at worst, would send the No. 3 pick in the draft to Minnesota as the main payoff for Garnett.
But the Suns increasingly look like the favorites, given that Phoenix is Garnett's preferred destination if he has to leave the only NBA city he has ever known and with the Suns clearly possessing more trade assets. The Wolves are looking for a combination of high draft picks, top young talent and expiring contracts to provide cap relief. The Lakers don't have a draft pick higher than No. 19 to offer and Minnesota, sources say, is not interested in Odom because of the two years and nearly $28 million left on the lanky lefty's contract.
It's believed that the Suns will continue trying to keep Stoudemire out of any deal, but sources say that the athletically gifted 24-year-old is not untouchable -- not with the Wolves having finally made the philosophical commitment to end the Garnett Era after years of speculation and with Phoenix feeling as though there is no better player it could acquire to counter San Antonio's Tim Duncan, who is seen as the Suns' biggest obstacle to getting out of the Western Conference playoffs.
Sources say Minnesota, furthermore, clearly hopes to complete a Garnett trade before the draft begins in hopes of securing a pick in first half of the lottery to go with its own No. 7 selection. The fact that Wolves owner Glen Taylor left the country for China on Tuesday afternoon for his honeymoon doesn't appear to have slowed the Wolves down at all.
Yet it remains to be seen if the Hawks, who have been notoriously reluctant to make roster moves of any sort for months because of their uncertain ownership situation, will actually commit to join in on a trade of this magnitude.
In any case, it's a trade that, even without completion, has seemingly eclipsed one of the most anticipated drafts in years.