Lakers’ Roy Hibbert is protecting the rim and his young teammates
Roy Hibbert likes to pretend he hates the media.
“Goodbye y’all,” he’ll say when it’s time for reporters to leave the locker room 45 minutes before tip-off of every game.
He puts on a grouchy front and is perhaps a little irritated with the way things ended with the Indiana Pacers. A local columnist was critical of him and the Pacers weren’t very friendly either, shipping Hibbert to the Lakers in July for a 2019 second-draft pick after publicly saying in April they could no longer guarantee him a starting spot.
Funny thing about Hibbert, though. He’s actually kind of funny. Quirky might be a better word.
Unless you rip his teammates. Then he gets defensive.
Hibbert sent out a near-midnight tweet last week, standing up for young Lakers D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
They were “gonna be tough to deal with in this league,” Hibbert tweeted. “Give them a couple years to play 2gether.”
It came after a tough two-point loss to Orlando, one of many for the Lakers (2-9) already this season.
“I spent a lot of time with those guys after the game. I had a family member in town and we [all] went to dinner,” Hibbert later said. “After that, we went back to the room. The rooks came up to my room and we were up until 4 a.m., just watching the Spurs play Portland and talking.
“I learned from them, they learned from me. I see the potential. People just have to be patient.”
Hibbert says he doesn’t read stories about himself or the Lakers. He still senses the impatience, though.
It’s hard for Lakers fans to see Jahlil Okafor, taken one pick after Russell in the June draft, averaging almost 20 points for the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 power forward with outside range, sure seems like a find for New York with the fourth overall pick.
Randle, 20, has shown a few things on the court and is averaging 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds but shooting only 41.7% as a power forward who doesn’t attempt three-pointers.
Russell, the 19-year-old who was the second selection in the draft, has shown less than Randle, averaging 9.5 points and 2.7 assists while shooting only 39.3%.
Clarkson has turned into the Lakers’ best player, averaging 15.7 points on solid 47.9% shooting. He’s not the one Hibbert is protecting.
“I just know with this team and how well they’ve done, in this city they want success, which is understandable,” Hibbert said. “But sometimes you have to nurture talent and you’ll reap the benefits of those seeds. Not now, but hopefully later.”
Hibbert, who turns 29 next month, is a side story himself, trying to reclaim his on-court reputation after leaving Indiana in a hurry at such a cheap price.
He’s in the last year of a contract that pays him $15.6 million this season and his scoring has been low, 9.4 points a game, mainly because he’s taking about half the shots he did in Indiana. His rebounding is also low (6.6 a game) but his blocked shots (2.4 a game) are among the NBA leaders.
“He’s causing guys to think about him when they’re going in there so he’s doing exactly what we wanted him to do defensively,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “I thought at the beginning of the season he over-helped sometimes too much and put us in jeopardy. But now he’s playing cat and mouse a lot better.”
Hibbert likes the city of L.A., calling it “pretty legit” after spending his first seven seasons in Indiana. It seemed like he’d be open to staying here when free agency hits next July.
On the other hand, he still thinks about his days with Indiana. How could he not?
A return to the Pacers won’t happen but he was once the young rookie there, surrounded by veterans such as T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic.
“I check the box scores to see how they’re doing,” Hibbert said, quickly adding “not in terms of wins and losses.”
There’s no guilty pleasure in seeing the Pacers lose, according to Hibbert. He wants to see the “personal success of those guys,” his friends for years, including former All-Star Paul George.
Hibbert is trying to make a new home in Los Angeles, a tough chore with all the losing. He’s making it happen, one forced scowl or grumpy aside at a time.
“I know where my place is and what my role is, so it’s pretty easy just to go in there and focus just on those things,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. I’m ecstatic to be in this city, playing for this team.”
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