Acquisitions are a big part of all team sports; the right ones can lead to championships while the wrong ones can lead to disasters. Which were the best acquisitions of the decade? Again, I’m trying to look at pickups that directly led to titles or changed the fortunes of teams entirely. Picking up an all-star and finishing a game or two better doesn’t count here. I’m talking real franchise changers. Here we go:
1. The Celtics get Kevin Garnett: Easily the move that most singlehandedly altered an entire season, and an entire franchise. Going into the 2007-08 season the Celtics were a collection of young players with one veteran All-Star to lead them. The results were repeated trips to the lottery. Then, on draft day in 2007 they traded some of the youth away for Ray Allen, an All-Star shooting guard but no franchise player. That move would have likely made them a second round playoff team, which beats the heck out of the lottery but still isn’t much to talk about for the Celtics. Then they got Garnett and became the instant favorite in the Eastern conference. The rest is history; the Celtics got banner 17, Paul Pierce and Allen are now likely Hall of Famers, and Garnett got his ring.
2. Steelers draft Ben Roethlisberger: The Steelers were a perennial playoff team, alway good for 10- 12 wins and at least one postseason victory. They always had good defenses, a good running game, and good receivers. But they always had to rely on mediocre signal callers to get them over the hump, and it never worked out. Neil O’Donnell got them to the Super Bowl and imploded, Kordell Stewart got them to the AFC title game a few times and laid eggs, and Tommy Maddox got them to the playoffs as well. But none of these guys were good enough to deliver when it mattered most, and pretty much crapped the bed whenever the moment of truth arrived. With O’Donnell, Stewart, and Maddox the Steelers were 1-3 AT HOME in the AFC championship game. Enter Big Ben, drafted quietly in the middle of the first round after the big hoopla over the Eli Manning/Phillip Rivers swap that took place earlier. Ben game managed the Steelers to a 15-1 campaing as a rookie and then went the way of his predecessors in the playoffs. But once the training wheels came off, he turned into a franchise QB, easily the best Steeler signal caller since Bradshaw. And now the Black and Gold have two more rings to add to the four they picked up in the 70s.
3. and 4. Curt Schilling: Schilling gets two spots on the list, becausde he was picked up by two different teams and helped change their fortunes. For year he toiled as the workhorse of the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff, often the only player worth mentioning. His name often came up in trade rumors, because good pitchers on mediocre to bad teams are always ripe to be dealt to contenders. Finally, he was moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks where he teamed with another great pitcher in Randy Johnson to help get the D-backs to the World Series and take down the Yankees. Then, after the D-Backs had fallen back to the pack he was shipped to Boston, where the sting of losing yet another playoff series to the Yankees was still fresh. Schilling helped infuse some winning attitude into the Sox, and was crucial to their 2004 takedown of the Yanks and subsequent World Series win and again in 2007 when they grabbed their second title in four years. Three titles in seven years, thanks largely to Schilling’s presence. Pretty damn impressive.
5. Pau Gasol to the Lakers: Think back to the summer of 2007; Kobe was at wit’s end, tired of having to carry the likes of Kwame Brown and Smush Parker. It seemed as if the Lakers were willing to keep him around to draw fans and then go to the youth movement with the rest of the roster. Andrew Bynum, drafted in 2005, was coming along very slowly and had yet to become a major factor. The only other Laker who would start on a good team was Lamar Odom. Kobe unleashed his I-want-out-ok-no-I-don’t tirade. Then, Bynum starts to bloom, but then he gets hurt. The Lakers go 5-5 over the next ten games, and their season is threatened. Then Gasol brings his 20 points and 10 rebounds per game with him from Memphis in a trade, and the Lakers go from sputtering to the NBA Finals. One year later, Gasol is a key player as the Lakers win their first title since 2002. Without Gasol, the 2007-08 goes in the crapper, and Kobe’s shattered confidence in the Laker front office doesn’t get repaired. Which may have landed him in another uniform, irreparably damaging his legacy and turning into another star who couldn’t get along. But Gasol’s arrival in L.A. changed all of that.