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Can the Lakers Survive the Theo Ratliff Crisis?

Building an NBA dynasty requires a combination of smarts, money and luck. You need a front office adept at identifying talent, acquiring the right players and managing the salary cap. You need a great coaching staff to mold the raw material into a dominant force. And you need to get lucky with health. An injury to a key player can turn a three-peat campaign into a loss in the conference finals. Some guys are such critical parts of the machine that losing them to injury for more than just a few days deals a fatal blow to the season.

Theo Ratliff is not one of those guys.

Even before it was announced that Theo would miss four to six weeks because of something knee-related, he wasn't shaping up to be an important component of the 2010-11 Lakers. He's played only 67 minutes this season and in that time has scored the princely sum of two points. On the glass he's been OK, but he's looked less mobile than the Magic Johnson statue outside of Staples and hasn't been much of a defensive presence in the paint. It says a great deal that Andrew Bynum has been injured all year and still Phil Jackson has given Theo less than nine minutes a game.

Instead, Phil has simply ladled more playing time onto Pau Gasol. Pau is averaging over 39 minutes a night, well above his career average, and his minutes played the last three games have run 44-41-44. That's too many. Which is why Theo's injury actually does matter, despite his sub-Mbenga production. Pending Bynum's return, what the Lakers need is someone to soak up Theo's minutes and five to seven minutes that are going to Pau.

Let's evaluate the options.

1.  Sign Erick Dampier

Damp is still a free agent. He was close to signing with Houston a few weeks ago, but the deal fell through. Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles states that it was due to "concerns about Dampier's health," though I've not seen that widely reported so who knows. In any event, as a capped-out team, the Lakers could offer Damp only the veteran's minimum.

If he's willing to take it, this is a no-brainer solution. Dampier is big, he can defend and rebound, and he's a couple years younger than Theo. Even if you knew with certainty that Drew would return in early December and remain healthy the rest of the year, adding Damp at the veteran's min would be a tasty move just to bolster frontcourt depth.

Honestly, though, I doubt this is realistic. Damp made over $12 million last year playing some quality ball. He probably doesn't view himself as a vet-min type of guy at this stage of his career. And if he did, I have no idea why Miami wouldn't have snatched him up already. But the LA Times reports that the Lakers will at least reach out to Damp to gauge his interest.

2.  Sign Some Random Bro

The D League has plenty of cut-rate big men to choose from. Courtney Sims, Chris Hunter and Chiekh Samb are a few of the names you might've heard already. Drew Naymick, the pride of the Bakersfield Jam, spent the preseason with the Lakers. There's also former Duke big man Brian Zoubek, who was in camp with New Jersey but didn't make their roster. In discussing whom Phoenix might sign to replace the injured Robin Lopez, our sister site Ridiculous Upside lists some other candidates. (The Suns went with Earl Barron.)

I'm not going to lie: most of these random bros are, to me, just random bros. I don't think there are any undiscovered gems just waiting for their shot at NBA stardom, but it's not like I can give you detailed scouting reports. I can tell you that Sims has had a couple very brief stints in the Show and hasn't done much with them. Hunter played 60 games for the Warriors last season and didn't embarrass himself. His D seemed pretty awful, but that might've just come from playing for Don Nelson. Naymick should have at least a little familiarity with the Laker playbook. As for Zoubek, it's hard to imagine the Lakers trusting a rookie to parachute into the lineup cold and not look completely lost, but he'd probably be decent on the defensive glass, which would be a welcome contribution.

3.  Give More Minutes to Derrick Caracter

Ding ding ding! Caracter needed more minutes anyway. He was easily outplaying Theo before the latter's injury and looks too good to be in the D League. We know he can get his own shot. With his body, he plays with enough energy to be a productive rebounder. His defense needs a lot of work, but what better way to get him coached up than to throw him into the fire?

Assuming Dampier isn't a realistic option, Phil should try ramping Caracter up to 15 to 20 minutes a night. If he responds well, awesome. If not, Bynum should be back soon in any event. And if the problem starts to look like a medium-term thing or worse, the Drew Naymicks of the world aren't going anywhere.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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