Lakers Report Cards: Theo Ratliff
Every step looked painful. Every movement seemed slow. And every injury update kept prolonging deeper and deeper into the season.
There's frankly not much to analyze when it comes to Ratliff's season, which consisted mostly of him of sitting on the sideline while rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. After playing in the first eight games, posting two points on one-of-six shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks, Ratliff remained sidelined for nearly 4 1/2 months before returning to the court. The next three appearances in the Lakers' 110-82 victory March 31 over Dallas, the Lakers' 102-93 victory April 12 over San Antonio and the Lakers' 109-100 Game 1 first-round loss April 17 to New Orleans served nothing more than garbage time, combining for zero points and one rebound in five minutes.
There's little use dissecting those performances because the small sample size shows that, at age 37, the 15-year-old veteran has little left in the tank. Once such a defensive stalwart that he averaged more than three blocks a game six times in a seven-year run during the prime of his career and even made an All-Star appearance in 2001, it was painful to see Ratliff hobble up and down the court. Ratliff didn't talk to reporters after his exit interview, but it was clear General Manager Mitch Kupchak had some second thoughts about signing Ratliff last offseason to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1.35 million.
"Theo Ratliffgot injured and we didn’t expect that to happen," Kupchak said during his exit interview. "We hoped he could help us get through December and November while Andrew [Bynum] was recovering. Low and behold, Theo goes down with an injury."
With so many areas plaguing the Lakers in what ended in a disappointing sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, Ratliff's inability to provide anything of substance proves to be marginal. His absence, however, seemed to negatively affect other players. There was plenty of debate on whether Bynum was at fault for delaying offseason surgery so he could attend the World Cup and because his doctor didn't have an appointment until 10 days after the initial date. But what isn't debatable is how Pau Gasol's increased playing time eventually caught up to him.
Of course, the Lakers could've offset this problem for taxing the $70,000 a week fee for acquiring a backup center, or Gasol could've simply showed more mental toughness considering that his playing time increased by only two minutes per game compared with 2010-11. But lacking Ratliff's eight minutes per night the Lakers hoped he could provide during Bynum's absence at least expedited and exposed the team's long-term weaknesses. That propelled Kobe Bryant to try to make up the difference with varied success, while the Lakers' reserves firing three-pointers even when their initial hot shooting streak in November dropped off. As small of a factor Ratliff's absence provided, it was still a domino piece that made the Lakers' more consequential problems even worse.
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Photo: Lakers center Theo Ratliff blocks a shot by Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko during an exhibition game at Staples Center. Credit: Jayne Oncea / US Presswire / October 17, 2010