Had Isiah Thomas not been so friendly with Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett very well could have been a member of the Toronto Raptors.
Looking back at the 1995 Draft it’s a little crazy how much the times have changed. Back then, not only were players coming straight out of high school but there was a stigma against drafting high school prospects. The top few teams in the draft that year were reportedly unease about the idea of drafting the 19-year-old Garnett.
The stories, as Jonathan Abrams tells in his book Boys Among Men, are shocking to read over a quarter-century later. Back then, Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons legend and then-president of the Raptors, actually talked McHale into drafting Garnett with the fifth pick in the draft.
“Whatever you’re hearing, don’t believe,” Thomas told McHale. “If you don’t take him, I’m definitely taking him. What you’re seeing in him is all true. What you’re hearing about him, none of that is true.
“Kevin, you and I have known each other since high school. He would be the perfect guy for you and he’s the perfect guy for me. I wouldn’t tell anybody else that, but out of respect for our friendship, I would [tell] you.” — excerpt from Boys Among Men
The Raptors had the seventh pick in that year’s draft, the first in franchise history. Had Garnett not gone fifth, the future NBA Hall of Famer very well could have slipped past the Vancouver Grizzlies at No. 6 and right into the waiting hands of Thomas and the Raptors. It would have been a game-changing selection for the organization who instead drafted Damon Stoudamire, an extremely talented undersized guard, but someone who was never the player Garnett was.
Part of the reason for Thomas’ honesty with McHale was some reservations about drafting Garnett in Toronto, Abrams wrote. Thomas worried that the Raptors’ brand-new roster would hurt Garnett’s development and he was concerned about Garnett’s ability to adjust to living in Canada. So instead of taking the greedy approach of most presidents and general managers, Thomas opted to help the Timberwolves out, facilitating one of the best careers in NBA history and maybe one of the biggest what-ifs in Raptors history.