If you're a Celtics fan and you see Pistons reserve center Theo Ratliff at a restaurant or walking the streets of our fine city, stop and thank him. Without Ratliff, the Celtics wouldn't be playing in the Eastern Conference finals.
Ratliff's one season with the Celtics was forgettable - he played in just two games last season, sidelined by surgery for a herniated disk in his back - but his impact on the franchise shouldn't be.
It was Ratliff's expiring contract and his $11.6 million salary for this season that allowed the Celtics to acquire Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves in a deal that also shipped Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, and a pair of first-round picks to Minnesota. Without Ratliff's salary, the July trade wouldn't have worked from a salary-cap standpoint for Boston.
A 12-year veteran who has twice been named to the NBA's All-Defensive team and is a one-time All-Star, Ratliff doesn't see his hoops legacy to be the fact he helped Celtics general manager Danny Ainge make the money work for the Garnett deal, but he understands his role in the resurgence.
"You knew they had to do something, and there was a lot of talk about trying to make changes and get back to the promised land, so to speak," said Ratliff last night before the Pistons' 103-97 victory in Game 2 at TD Banknorth Garden. "Danny did a great job with the moves with teams that were at the point where they weren't winning with their top guys anymore, so they were willing to give them up, so it was a great situation."
Ratliff stays in touch with Leon Powe and Rajon Rondo, but the Celtic he's happiest for is coach Doc Rivers. Ratliff, who was swapped to the Celtics by the Portland Trail Blazers in a draft-night deal in 2006 that also brought Telfair to town, said Rivers did an excellent job of handling a callow team that won just 24 games.
"I'm extremely happy for Doc. I know he's a good coach," said Ratliff. "He's the perfect fit for a head coach. He's a great fit for this team.
"It was extremely hard [last season]. We had three high school guys and two rookies. It's extremely hard to get guys to understand the different nuances of the game that you gain throughout years of playing the game.
"He has a great mind for basketball and recognizing things on the floor. He's got a great opportunity with these guys, and he's done a great job coaching."
As it turns out, the deal has worked out for both the Celtics and Ratliff. He missed 45 games for Minnesota after undergoing right knee surgery in December to repair a tear in his meniscus. He returned Feb. 21, and a week later, the Timberwolves, who went 22-60 this season, agreed to buy him out of the remainder of his contract, making him a free agent. He signed with Detroit March 4 for a prorated portion of the $1.3 veteran minimum.
"It was a great situation for me," said Ratliff, who was scoreless with two rebounds and four fouls in 15 minutes last night.
"I've been on rebuilding teams for the last seven years that haven't had a chance to get to the playoffs, so this is a breath of fresh air to be still playing right now and playing with a bunch of talented guys and with a great organization that I know very well. It was a great opportunity for me."
The Pistons took Ratliff with the 18th selection in the 1995 draft, and he played two-plus seasons in Detroit before he was traded to Philadelphia.
As for any hard feelings about being used to usher in a new era of good feelings at the Garden, Ratliff doesn't have any. It's just business.
"Oh, yeah, definitely, it was a great opportunity to make a move," he said. "It was a great move for them."