Column: Roy Hibbert’s defensive attitude is OK for Lakers
Roy Hibbert had planned to spend the summer in Los Angeles anyway, so he didn’t have a long way to go when the Lakers acquired him from the Indiana Pacers two weeks ago for a second-round draft pick.
“I knew I was going to get traded at some point, but I didn’t think it would be to the place that I moved during the summer,” he said Wednesday. “It worked out pretty well. I’m excited to be here.”
Will the feeling be mutual?
The 7-foot-2 center became the Lakers’ fall-back option after free agents LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe and DeAndre Jordan turned them down, but Hibbert could become much more than a consolation prize for a team that desperately needs a fearsome defensive player. He might be a reclamation project after a bad season in Indiana — he averaged 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks and his playing time dwindled down the stretch before the Pacers missed the playoffs — but he sounded as if he has taken the first mental strides toward adjusting to his new team and role.
“My main presence is going to be at the rim,” Hibbert said while sharing the stage with free-agent signees Brandon Bass and Lou Williams at a news conference in El Segundo.
“I believe last year the Lakers were 28th in defensive efficiency, so my job is to make sure I clog up the paint, help-side defense, and whatever else I get on the offensive end is candy. But my main presence is going to be on defense and make sure these guys know I have their backs out there.”
The Lakers actually ranked 29th, which only reinforces his point — and his potential value.
Hibbert, who waived most of a trade kicker to make the deal work financially, isn’t so far removed from two All-Star seasons with the Pacers and back-to-back Eastern Conference finals appearances. They plan to go younger and faster, which excluded him from their future.
The Lakers also will go young in many spots, but Hibbert can be an experienced defensive backbone. It’s not impossible to envision a motivated Hibbert thriving under Coach Byron Scott, whose defense-first mantra was sadly ignored much of last season.
“I think it starts with him,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said of Hibbert, who will be 29 in December. “I think he used the expression ‘fresh start’ or ‘a new start.’ I think that’s important.”
Hibbert, Williams and Bass all used it, but it could be most appropriate for Hibbert, who said he spoke to Kupchak and Scott about making more of an impact on defense than offense. He compares it to the role Andrew Bogut played for the champion Golden State Warriors.
“I looked at it as that because we have Kobe [Bryant], Nick Young, a lot of young guys that are in the process of showing what they can do,” Hibbert said. “Whenever I have a chance to score, Byron told me he’d make sure and get me some looks, but my primary focus is on defense.”
As it should be. “I don’t think he’s going to be the person that averages 26 points and 15 rebounds a game. I do think that he can be a consideration for an All-Star,” Kupchak said.
“But he has to really choose — and it sounds like he has — the style of basketball that he wants to play. To me it sounds like he wants to start on the defensive end, which is what we need…. If he can do that, and if he can rebound and take up space and protect the rim and divert guys that get in the paint that beat our guys on the perimeter, then that’s going to be a really, really, really good year.”
Hibbert, wearing a bright blue suit with a flower in his lapel, sweated under the bright TV lights even though he’s accustomed to the glare. He made several cameo appearances on the comedy “Parks and Recreation,” but he’s not here to advance his acting career.
“One of the first things my agent talked about is not getting caught up in the Hollywood stuff, so I’m pretty grounded,” he said.
Fortifying the Lakers’ defense will keep him busy enough. “It’s nice to say that he’s been an All-Star two years,” Kupchak said, “but the bottom line is in this business if you can say you have somebody with that size that’s 28 years old that clearly wants to rebirth his career, I think that’s a good risk.”
Rebirth or reclamation, it’s the same idea. The Lakers will take either one.
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