The Spurs have gotten younger and more athletic this summer, but their latest addition proves they still value veteran players who can defend, even as their athleticism has begun to wane. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford confirmed Thursday that Theo Ratliff, a 36-year-old center who averaged 3.6 blocks per game in 2003-04, has agreed to terms of a contract for the 2009-10 season.
"Theo has always been a very good defender and shot-blocker," Buford said. "Looking to next season, we thought that shot-blocking and rim protection was an important piece we needed to fill."
Ratliff last season played 46 games with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 1.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 12.6 minutes per game, all of his time coming from the bench.
Terms of the contract haven't been disclosed, but it is believed to be a one-year deal for the veteran minimum - $1.3065 million for a player with Ratliff's tenure. Such a deal allows the Spurs to be reimbursed for the amount exceeding the minimum salary for a player with two years of experience, $825,497. Only the two-year veteran minimum will count against the team's total payroll for salary cap and luxury tax purposes, an important factor with the Spurs' payroll already exceeding the new luxury tax threshold, $69.9 million.
The addition of Ratliff gives the Spurs 13 players under contract, seven of them big men: Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, Ian Mahinmi, recently signed free agents Antonio McDyess, Marcus Haislip and Ratliff; and second-round draft pick DeJuan Blair.
The Spurs regard both Bonner and Haislip as perimeter power forwards, big men with 3-point range capable of stretching defenses. Haislip may even play some at the small forward position.
The six perimeter players under contract are small forwards Michael Finley and Richard Jefferson, point guards George Hill and Tony Parker, and shooting guards Manu Ginobili and Roger Mason Jr.
In all likelihood, Ratliff's signing rules out the return of former Spurs Fabricio Oberto and Bruce Bowen, traded in the three-team deal that brought Jefferson to San Antonio. Oberto was waived by the Pistons after his new, partially guaranteed contract went into effect on July 1. Several NBA sources have said the Bucks are offering Bowen, and his half-guaranteed contract, in trade talks.
"The goal right now is to build as productive a team as we can this year, but also try to search out some athleticism for the future," Buford said.
Ratliff is a true center whose primary skills have been interior defense and rebounding. Next year will be his 15th NBA season.
Injury-prone his entire career, he has played more than 60 games in a season only five times. He's played only 74 games over the past three seasons because of injuries.
Early in his career Ratliff was regarded as one of the NBA's rising stars among centers, but injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential. While a member of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000-01, he was voted to the Eastern Conference starting lineup for the 2001 All-Star Game. A wrist injury prevented him from playing, and he was traded to Atlanta at the February trade deadline, shortly after that All-Star Game, in exchange for Dikembe Mutombo, who helped the 76ers reach the 2001 Finals.
The Spurs will be Ratliff's seventh NBA team. Drafted 18th overall by the Pistons out of Wyoming in 1995, he played two-plus seasons in Detroit before a trade sent him to the 76ers in 1998. Injuries limited him to 50 and 57 games his first full two seasons in Philadelphia, and he was traded after the wrist injury in 2001.
His best NBA seasons came in 2002-03, when he averaged 3.2 blocks in 81 games for the Hawks, and in 2003-04, when he played 85 games, 53 for the Hawks and 32 for the Portland Trail Blazers. He blocked 307 shots, an average of 3.6 per game, that season.
Size: 6-10, 235 pounds
* Drafted 18th in the 1995 draft out of Wyoming by the Detroit Pistons.
* As a memberof the Philadelphia 76ers, voted the starting Eastern Conference center in the 2001 All-Star Game; missed the game with a wrist injury and was traded to Atlanta before team's run to the NBA Finals.
* Suffered ankle, wrist, knee and hip injuries over career.
* 7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg in 14-year NBA career, during which he's played for six teams before Spurs .