LONDON If it's surreal to see a red rubber bracelet wrapped around Kevin Garnett's right wrist and reading "Red Sox Nation," well, tonight just figures to be weird all around.
Even if Garnett decided to take the evening off and go ride the London Eye, an unlikely prospect, there still would be five new Wolves who just left the Boston Celtics only to find their first NBA preseason foe will be those same Celtics, tonight at the gaudy O2 Arena along the Thames River in East London.
In the cases of three of the five players exchanged for Garnett on July 31 -- Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Ryan Gomes -- that's the same Celtic green that quelled their draft-night stress a few years back and granted them entry into the NBA.
The other two, Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff, were in Boston for only one season. Ratliff played only two Boston games, yet might have had the best year of the five because his twin sons, Adonis and Darius Ratliff, were born.
"Boston will always be home to me," said Jefferson, 22.
Back in 2004, before he became the Most Valuable Player Traded For Kevin Garnett, Jefferson was just your average 6-10, 256-pound Mississippi high schooler who'd hoarded points (42 per game), rebounds (18 per game) and descriptions as a "man-child" (here and there in mock drafts).
When Portland and Atlanta considered taking Jefferson in the second half of the first round, Boston picked him at No. 15 in what became known as a coup for Danny Ainge, the Celtics' executive director of basketball operations.
"They mean a lot," Jefferson said of the Celtics. "That was the team that drafted me, the team that took a chance on me when a lot of teams didn't want to."
He's grateful, but at least those other franchises spared him the anxiety of the dreaded draft slide that befell Green and Gomes.
"I mean, I still think of Boston the same," said Green, 21, who went 18th in 2005 after analysts compared him to Tracy McGrady and pegged him to be drafted much higher coming out of Gulf Shores Academy in Houston. "They gave me a chance. ... They were the first people to take me when I was slipping in the draft."
In wizened business-world mode at 21, Green wishes the Celtics the best while saying he's "glad where I'm at, Minnesota. This is my new home. Hopefully this'll be where I'm at for the rest of my career."
It's possible the Celtics brought the most relief to Gomes, who'd declared draft eligibility in 2004 before reconsidering and playing another year at Providence. By the time the 2005 draft came around, the New England kid had rented a hotel suite for about 75 friends and family members at a Holiday Inn Express in Waterbury, Conn.
"That night?" Gomes said. "I'll never forget it."
A college power forward who had worked to become a small forward for the NBA, Gomes figured he'd go in the first round. He thought returning to school would've cemented that. After the picks went past 30 to 35 to 40 to Orlando choosing Martynas Andriuskevicius at No. 44, Gomes couldn't watch anymore.
He retreated to the hotel parking lot only to hear an audible roar come from the hotel when the Celtics chose him No. 50. Gomes said he felt both "very upset" and "also very grateful." Ainge would count himself lucky Gomes fell that far, and Gomes rewarded Ainge by averaging 12 points and 5.6 rebounds last season and, in a cold business, helped fetch Garnett.
"You think, 'Can I make it?' Because it's tough," Gomes said. "You have 99.9-percent confidence in yourself, but there's always that little bit of doubt because of what happened to previous people. Once you get past that, you're going to be OK."
He got past that in Boston and said, "I appreciate all of that and I will never forget that."
Weaker sentiment applies to Telfair and Ratliff. Portland took the ballyhooed Brooklyn prep point guard Telfair at No. 13 in 2004, two spots ahead of Boston's selection of Jefferson. When Boston traded for Telfair and Ratliff, Telfair said, "They saw something in me that probably a lot of other teams didn't."
He spent one season with the Celtics, 78 games, an eternity next to Ratliff. Lower-back surgery on Jan. 23 ended his season, after he'd played against Charlotte on Nov. 8 and Utah on Nov. 10, culling five points and seven rebounds.
Factor in a career that has spanned Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Portland, Boston and the Wolves, and Ratliff is used to this business. But for everybody else, as Garnett said of this matchup, "I didn't say it wasn't strange."