The Lakers finally set off some Summer 2015 fireworks with the acquisition of former Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. The two-time All-Star, set to make $15.5 million in the final year of his contract, has been rumored to be on the outs with Indy for months, who badly wanted Hibbert's deal off of their books. He's the Lakers' first significant acquisition this summer since the NBA Draft, a shocking development given the team's need at almost every position and their bevy of available money.
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Many are saying that the Lakers should have received assets in this trade rather than sending out a second round pick. After all, the Pacers, for whatever their reasoning, seemed to be dead set on unloading his salary for next season and had limited options on where they could trade him. In some sense, the Lakers, with a massive amount of cap room that could take on Hibbert without giving up salary in return, seemed to have the upper hand.
The truth is the Lakers are still the team at a deficit, not only in what they don't have on hand, but also what they stand to gain with Hibbert.
LA was an absolute joke defensively this year. They were second-to-last in defensive efficiency and many nights, they looked like they couldn't stop many college teams despite efforts on that end of the floor. They lacked any semblance of a defensive identity, which, compounded with a complete lack of an offensive identity, made the Lakers the basketball equivalent of latte foam -- tasteless, formless and forgettable.
With Hibbert, they will at least form an ID on one side of the court. The Pacers were still eighth last season in defensive efficiency, which is miraculous considering lengthy absences from Paul George, George Hill and the departure of Lance Stephenson. A lot of that has to be attributed to Hibbert, who is still an elite rim protector, no matter what other parts of his game may be lacking. He ranked in the top-4 in opponent field goal percentage at the rim, which is exactly what Los Angeles needs him for.
Moreover, the Lakers very much need to set the tone with their young players -- not just in that Hibbert could lead by example on that end of the floor, but in that they very badly need him to make up for what I expect to be ample defensive lapses. There's no amount of coaching that can stop Randle, Russell and Clarkson from getting dispirited when they blow an assignment and enforce bad habits down the road. With Hibbert, the youngsters will have a little more time to develop a defensive acumen and adjust to the pace of the NBA -- they won't be called upon to deliver immediately on that end.
Most importantly, the Lakers need to start treating their on-court product not just as a device for rebuilding, but rather another lure to grab free agents. It's really no wonder that LA had a hard time recruiting free agents this year -- they absolutely sucked the past two years. They have a 37-year-old Hall of Famer literally on his last legs. They have three unproven rookies who have a royal blue pedigree but little actual on-court experience. The team is, again, formless on both ends of the floor, with little to sell free agents on besides the word of arguably the worst coach in the league and a much-maligned front office.
The Lakers need to not be a joke on the court anymore, at least on one end of the floor. Hibbert can help them get there. He is an experienced veteran in his prime, and a professional hard worker. The organization badly needed someone of his ilk and I'd rather have him starting for a year than say Kosta Kofous (a very good player, but not in Hibbert's neighborhood) for another four years.
Oddly enough, despite his one-year contract, I can see Hibbert contributing to the Lakers long-term even if he's not in the fold after 2016. He'll help the young players and move along a team that has no solid grasp on who they are. Giving up a second rounder is more than just a fair trade for the Lakers -- they may have very well won the deal.
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