37 Year Old Theo Ratliff wins the tip against Dwight Howard (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Theo Ratliff is old. He is so old, his age is usually attached to his name, as in "37 year old Theo Ratliff". In fact, from here out, I may be referring to him as 37YOTR for short.
Despite his age, 37YOTR brings some serious credentials to the team. He was an All-Star (voted-in!) in 2001, which by my math is nine years ago, and he led the league in blocks per game three seasons (2000-01, 2002-03, and 2003-04). Dude can block shots. Even last season, he averaged 1.24 blocks per game in limited minutes with Charlotte and San Antonio.
37YOTR comes in as a "replacement" for fan favorite DJ Mbenga. He is on a one year contract and will spend limited time at both center and power forward. His reputation as a veteran shot blocker should give him some respect from the officials, but since he is a shot blocker, expect him to get dunked on from time to time, as he is not afraid to challenge shots.
In short, even at 37 years old, Theo Ratliff is a tall shot blocker with a nice, albeit old defensive presence. It should be noted that his 2006-07 season was ended when he had lower back surgery. You know you aren't going to have any problems in the locker room from this veteran, and Lakers practices should be plenty interesting with 37YOTR guarding the rim from high flyers like Shannon Brown.
Role on the Team: 37YOTR is an insurance policy for the Lakers. What does that policy cover? Injuries to Gasol and Bynum, or early foul trouble for both. What are the benefits? 37YOTR brings height and shot-blocking. That's it. Oh, and rebounds. That's all that will be asked of him, to give the Lakers a few minutes here and there, a little more in blowouts, and maybe help develop the youngsters on the team. The Lakers will be Ratliff's ninth NBA team, for reasons apart from injuries. While he is a formidable shot blocker, his offense is far from sophisticated. No post moves and a limited offensive repertoire will only get you so far. 37YOTR is a respected NBA veteran, and by all accounts, a smart player. He is going to endear himself quickly to fans who clamor for Andrew Bynum to just concentrate on rebounding and defense. Unfortunately, though the spirit is willing, sometimes the flesh is weak. We'll see just how much 37YOTR has left in the tank.
Best-Case Scenario for His Season: In limited minutes, 37YOTR moves up the chart for all time blocks (currently in 18th place, 64 blocks behind Larry Nance), while providing Gasol and Bynum support when they are in foul trouble, especially if Ebanks and Caracter are not earning their minutes. He begins to Incorporate Dikembe Mutombo's finger wag after each block. If he gets some minutes with Kobe (since Kobe knows how to make centers look good), 37YOTR might even look like 27YOTR for a few minutes, back when he averaged 12.4 ppg, 8.3rpg, and 3.7 bpg with the Philadelphia Sixers.
Worst-Case Scenario for His Season: Injuries and lack of trust in the youngsters require 37YOTR to log heavy minutes, putting undue stress on his body, making him less and less effective. Look, the more Ratliff plays, even if he performs beyond our wildest expectations, that means the less Gasol and Bynum are playing, which is bad news for the Lakers.
What We Expect: Not to sound like a broken record here, but we expect height, veteran savvy, shot blocking, and rebounding in limited minutes. I expect him to make us say "whoa ... that was good ... for a 37 year old", and leave us cheering as he saves the day by getting a block that preserves tacos for the Staples Center attendees. I expect him to have some nice putback jams off of errant Laker shots. I also hope that he shows the young 'uns what it means to be a pro, and sets a great example for them.