Why Minnesota bought out Theo Ratliff

by February 29, 2008

By Ryne Nelson

When I heard the Wolves bought out Theo Ratliff’s contract last night, I wondered why Minnesota did it. Ratliff had an expiring contract worth $11.66 million – the NBA equivalent of liquid gold. So I looked into the buyout to see if I could better understand it from Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor’s point of view.

The first thing to understand is the buyout does not affect the Wolves’ $11.66 million slot. Ratliff would still be in Minnesota if it did. What the buyout does affect is the money in Taylor’s pocket – $3.7 million to be exact. The $3.7 million is what the Timberwolves owed Ratliff over the 26 remaining games.

The buyout also creates opportunities for more playing time. Releasing Ratliff frees up minutes for Craig Smith and Chris Richard to prove their worth. Until season’s end, the Timberwolves expect to lose games, but that’s almost the point – play the young guys, and gather the ping-pong balls while ye may.

Still one question remains: If the Wolves were going to get rid of Ratliff, couldn’t they have got something in return vis-à-vis a trade? If we’ve learned anything from the Pau Gasol Trade, contracts like Ratliff’s are of absolute value in this day and age.

The Wolves opted not to trade Ratliff because they had what they wanted: salary-cap flexibility. A $11.66 million slot is infinitely more valuable to Minnesota than a (for instance) player with a fat, multi-season contract. Rebuilding teams generally look to horde salary-cap flexibility unless a perfect, young piece to the puzzle falls into their lap. Last month, no available player fit that mold.

Lastly, the Timberwolves showed a nice gesture to a veteran whose days with the team were numbered. Taylor saved $3.7 million and helped Theo out in the process. What more can you ask for?