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Lakers Taking Necessary Gamble on Roy Hibbert After Flopping in Free Agency

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2015

USA Today

It wasn't the signature addition for which the Los Angeles Lakers were hoping—not a Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan or even Greg Monroe. Nor was the price right for DeMarcus Cousins, despite the organization's latest attempt to strike a deal with the Sacramento Kings.

Acquiring Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers is a stopgap measure, a Band-Aid solution for general manager Mitch Kupchak and an undoubtedly frustrated front office that's otherwise come up empty in free agency. The emergence of point guard D'Angelo Russell will be entertaining enough, as will a healthy Kobe Bryant. But there will be no saviors this summer.

Hibbert isn't that. He is, however, a pleasantly surprising element of the organization's contingency plan, and his official acquisition is but a matter of time.

Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne

Source on Lakers-Hibbert trade first reported by @ESPNSteinLine "it'll get done after the 9th"

It's also a bargain in trade terms.

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Mike Bresnahan @Mike_Bresnahan

Lakers' price to acquire Indiana center Roy Hibbert: A future second-round draft pick, year undisclosed.

The money isn't ideal, but nor is it prohibitive over the long term.

Hibbert was scheduled to make $15,514,031, according to Spotrac.com, and that figure will escalate by over $2 million due a trade kicker in the 28-year-old's contract. While L.A. can add to its roster around the margins, this move all but closes the door on another major acquisition. The good news is that 2015-16 is the last season on Hibbert's contract, leaving the franchise with ungodly amounts of cap room next summer (when Bryant's $25 million also comes off the books).

Though he isn't likely to radically alter the Lakers' playoffs chances, Hibbert fills an immediate need at the 5. The organization didn't pick up an option on center Jordan Hill, leaving the team's incumbent big man a free agent.

Comparing Hibbert and Hill's 2014-15 Seasons
MinPtsFG%RebBlk
Hibbert25.310.6.4467.11.6
Hill26.812.0.4597.90.7
ESPN.com

Some will hold Hibbert's recent history against him, and that's not entirely fair. IndyStar's Candace Buckner outlines his gradual demise over the last three seasons:

Hibbert made the All-Star team in 2011-12 while having the best season of his career—averages of 12.8 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, all career highs—and was a key figure in the team taking the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals in 2013, but his role then slowly eroded to the background. First, when Paul George ascended as a two-way perimeter star, then as small ball produced success for opponents around the league.

In other words, one could certainly argue that Hibbert was a victim of circumstance. The writing had been on the wall for some time, and only now has Indiana resolved to finally move in a different direction. That's the indication team president Larry Bird made explicitly at season's end.

"We're probably going to play another style," he told reporters in reference to a smaller, more uptempo lineup. "And I can't guarantee [Hibbert] anything. He's going to have to earn it."

In L.A., he should have the opportunity to do just that. He'll be facing the Western Conference's likes of Cousins, Tyson ChandlerTim Duncan, Marc GasolDwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan—a series of challenges that will give him purpose and perhaps some renewed vigor. The Lakers need Hibbert. And they need him to return to that All-Star form.

Though his output had become increasingly uneven in Indiana, Hibbert has always been a better-than-average center, certainly more skilled in the post than many his size. He also figures to contribute more rim protection than Hill has over the last couple of seasons in L.A.

The seven-year veteran is coming off a campaign in which he averaged a respectable 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 25.3 minutes per contest. The real worry is that his field-goal percentage hasn't topped 44.8 percent in any of the last three seasons. That's a low mark for a guy who likes to play with his back to the basket.

The Lakers can live with it, though, particularly if Hibbert can deter and affect shots at the rim on the other end. The team ranked 29th in defensive efficiency last season, yielding a highly problematic 108 points per 100 possessions, according to Hollinger Team Stats. Hibbert won't fix everything, but he'll compensate for a few mistakes on the perimeter. That's a start.

Duane Burleson/Associated Press

Hibbert ranked fifth league-wide in defensive win shares both in 2012-13 (4.9) and 2013-14 (5.0) according to Basketball-Reference.com. His defensive box plus/minus ranked fifth (3.8) and seventh (3.3), respectively, during those seasons. When fully engaged, Hibbert is an elite big man defensively, a huge body capable of disrupting offenses in a variety of ways.

So while the Lakers haven't inherited a scoring sidekick for Bryant, they do get a defensively accomplished big man who's still in his prime and just might have a little chip on his shoulder after the way things went down in Indiana. And remember, Hibbert has played on winning teams. He has that kind of pedigree.

The Lakers need that, too.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers talks on the bench with Jordan Clarkson #6 during the game with the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center on March 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.     NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Hibbert's acquisition won't be particularly popular in some circles, but the Lakers had precious few options in a market with a quickly dwindling supply of free-agent talent. As big men go, there's probably no one better than Hibbert who's available at the moment.

There's virtually no chance Gasol leaves the Grizzlies. Tristan Thompson and Enes Kanter are both restricted free agents. And guys like Hill or Amar'e Stoudemire don't do a lot on the rim-protection front. By comparison, Hibbert seems like a pretty good idea.

Sure, there's an unmistakable sense that this move represents a measure of desperation on the Lakers' part. The franchise has—at least temporarily—lost its luster in the eyes of premier free agents. That's become increasingly undeniable after the last two offseason experiments in futility.

Given those limitations, however, acquiring Hibbert is a pretty savvy move. It leaves the future wide open while addressing an immediate roster hole and defensive deficit.

That's a victory for Kupchak and an organization looking to save some face—even if it comes amid a flurry of free-agent defeats.

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