He's someone for whom you can honestly and genuinely pull. Curtis Borchardt has been through enough in his three years in the NBA that you figure he's due, even overdue, for some good fortune.
The man defines the phrase ''injury-prone." Google his name and you'll arrive at the home page of the American Society of Orthopedic Surgeons. He's broken bones in his feet (three times), wrist, and finger. He's battled tendinitis. He missed his entire first season in the NBA and most of the second. This is his third NBA season, his second NBA team and, quite possibly, his last NBA stop.
''It's tough," the good-natured former Stanford center said yesterday. ''I'm not going to say it has been easy because it definitely hasn't. It's definitely a mental battle when you go through something like that because athletes tend to define themselves by how they perform. And when that is taken away from you, it's a struggle sometimes to find your self-worth. If you don't stay positive, you're just going to dig yourself a bigger hole. That's been my focus, just staying positive."
Borchardt is in Boston because his salary helped balance the biggest trade in NBA history Aug. 2, the one in which Antoine Walker went to Miami. It involved five teams and 13 players. Borchardt is what general manager Chris Wallace likes to call a ''cap guy," a player who is tossed into trades to make them pass salary-cap muster. Qyntel Woods was another such fellow, but the Celtics already have sent him packing. Given Borchardt's size -- 7 feet 2 inches, 240 pounds -- he is worth a longer look. Already, Doc Rivers likes what he sees.
''He was kind of a throw-in guy in the trade to make the numbers work, but he has come in here and opened my eyes," Rivers said yesterday. ''Our big-man coach loves him, loves all the little things he does. He's a banger. He's physical. We need that. He's going to make it very interesting. I think he's already making people uncomfortable."
That would be a change. Borchardt making someone else uncomfortable.
Rivers nearly coached him as a rookie in 2002; the Orlando Magic drafted Borchardt with the No. 18 pick overall as an early entry candidate. But the pick was part of a prearranged deal with Utah. Orlando sent Borchardt to the Jazz for Ryan Humphrey and Jamal Sampson, both 2002 draft picks.
''One of our scouts loved him and we considered him," said Rivers, whose Orlando team was always a bit size-challenged. ''Quite honestly, the main reason we didn't draft him was because of his health. He had the foot injury in college. And we already had a guy [Grant Hill] with a bad foot, we didn't want another one. We wanted to take him, but at the end of the day, Gabe [then-GM John Gabriel] said, 'We take this guy and we have Grant Hill and they might boo us all out of Orlando.' And Gabe was right."
That foot injury in college to which Rivers referred also sidelined Borchardt for the entire 2002-03 NBA season. The following season, he missed 65 games with a broken left index finger and a broken right wrist. Last year was a virtual coming-out party. He appeared in 67 games, starting 23. He tied his career high of 12 points in Utah's visit to Boston March 30.
On paper, Borchardt appears to be a bubble guy in this camp. The Celtics will have to get rid of two players to get down to the maximum of 15 and the question may well be whether Rivers and Danny Ainge decide to keep six big men.
''You can afford to keep six on a 15-man roster," Ainge said, ''so he has a chance. He's a good player. We like all six of our big guys and I don't think Curtis takes a back seat necessarily to any of them. But he's going to have to beat one of those guys out unless we decide to keep all six."
Should Borchardt remain healthy and continue to play well, he is going to make a case for himself. He said he was ''really excited" to learn of the deal to Boston, adding, ''I'm just happy to be in a new situation." And, he added, ''healthy. For me."
He continued, ''It's weird. My dad played in the NFL for nine years and maybe had his knee scoped once. He got lucky. I didn't. For me, the last four or five years have been spent trying to overcome my body a little bit. That's the reality of sports. You have to take care of yourself because that's what is getting the job done, your body, not your brain."
Borchardt's father, Jon, spread his nine-year NFL career (1979-87) between Buffalo (six years) and Seattle (three years). There's another athlete in the family, Borchardt's wife, Susan. She was a basketball star at Stanford (Susan King) and just got through a season with the WNBA Minnesota Lynx.