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Lakers' Jordan Hill commits to his health and feels good about it

Lakers' Jordan Hill commits to his health and feels good about it
Lakers power forward Jordan Hill averaged a career-high 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game last season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Jordan Hill leaned over as he dropped onto a folding chair, the sweat continually falling off the end of his nose after another tough Byron Scott practice.

These are important days for Hill. Days he couldn't have envisioned a year ago when he found himself on the wrong way on a tricky street.

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The GPS in Hill's brain finally told him to stop all the harm he was doing to his body. So he listened.

He was drinking too much alcohol and it affected his ability to push through the 82-game grind of an NBA schedule.

"I stopped drinking a lot," Hill told The Times on Thursday. "I don't drink anymore, to tell you the truth. I got my body refreshed and I'm more energized. I'm recovering faster after practice. It feels real good.

"I made it a point to myself — it's time to grow up. I wanted to help bring another ring here and I wanted to be a professional about it."

He looked good in bursts last season, muscling around down low and grabbing rebounds at a steady clip, but the Lakers' coaching staff noticed he could never play more than a handful of minutes before fatiguing.

Hill's numbers were career highs — 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game — but coaches always wanted more than the 20.8 minutes he gave them on average.

Maybe Hill is one of the lucky ones.

The Lakers failed to land Carmelo Anthony in free agency and realized they would lose Pau Gasol to Chicago, so they re-signed Hill to a two-year, $18-million contract in July.

Only this season is guaranteed, at a very weighty $9 million. The Lakers hold Hill's option next year.

Hill, 27, has been the starting center so far in training camp after dropping from 253 pounds to a healthy 240 during the off-season. He's also worked on a jump shot in the range of 15 to 17 feet.

He knows he has more to prove. It's barely October.

"I take pride in that they wanted me back and were willing to pay to have me back," he said. "It's a good feeling. It built up my confidence.

"My goal is to average a double-double this season. I really can. I almost did last season even with the [limited] minutes I had."

Talking trash

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It certainly sounded like vintage Kobe Bryant at Thursday's scrimmage, judging by the trash talk.

"Don't play with me," Bryant yelled at Nick Young after scoring another basket. "You ain't strong enough!"

Young urged the referees, brought in by the team to officiate the scrimmage, not to reward Bryant based on his star status.

On another play, Bryant yelled, "Don't hurt yourself!" after rookie Jordan Clarkson stumbled while trying to guard him. Bryant scored on the play, hitting a short turnaround from the right side.

"We're all having fun. We're competing. We try to push each other," Bryant said after practice. "That's really the key, especially when we're physically tired."

Surprise!

Scott didn't pause when asked to pick the surprise of training camp so far.

"Ronnie Price has been the one guy that I could look at and say, 'Wow, this guy has really got my attention,'" Scott said. "Offensively, he just understands what we're doing. He plays within that box, which means he plays within himself.

"And defensively he's a little bit of a pitbull. He just gets after people."

Price's contract is not guaranteed and there are three other point guards currently on the roster: Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and rookie Clarkson, a second-round pick the Lakers like a lot.

Price, 31, played for five teams in nine NBA seasons before joining the Lakers as a training-camp invitee.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times staff writer Broderick Turner and Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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