Roy Hibbert wanted his money. He wanted his money more than he wanted a spot in the rotation. He wanted his money more than he wanted the coach’s approval. He wanted his money more than he wanted the boos to stop in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Larry Bird positioned Hibbert between a rock and a hard place. Bird made it clear that HIbbert had no future with the team, that he would be ostracized and marginalized, that he wouldn’t play, that he would be invisible. It was a strategy to encourage Hibbert to leave on his own, basketball’s version of extortion.
Hibbert didn’t blink. He chose the money. He chose the Pacers wrath and the fans abuse and the media slurs and he kept his money and forced the Pacers to trade him and get nothing in return.
A second round pick for Roy Hibbert?
Over his Indiana Pacer career Roy Hibbert, a 17 pick in the NBA draft ( a reach by most accountings), developed into a center with basic fundamentals. He was not great. He was not very good. But he could be counted on to rebound, protect the rim, do a few things in the paint. No front court player was better at using the rule of verticality to defend scorers in the paint. Still, the knocks kept coming. His athleticism-he has none– his heart and his desire- buried, dead– his mental toughness-he’s soft– has transcended Roy Hibbert and his game into a joke.
But there was that Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 in which Roy Hibbert altered the characterizations. In a game 2 win in Miami he had 29 points, 10 rebounds. He made 90% of his free throws. He missed 5 shots because no one on the Heat was taller than 6-8. He played 39 minutes. In a game three loss, he had 20 points and 11 rebounds but missed 8 out of 12 shots. The next game he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and the Pacers tied the series. In game 6, to tie the series again, he had 24 points and eleven rebounds. The entire Pacers team was overwhelmed in game 7. Hibbert had decent numbers, 18 points, 8 rebounds, but not nearly the amount of production needed to beat a LeBron James team at home.
After five years, Roy Hibbert, it seemed, had created a career for himself. He stayed in his lane. What he did well, he thrived at. What he didn’t do well, he avoided. The Pacers brass did a good job of keeping Roy Hibbert’s game simple. The presence of Paul George meant that Hibbert was never the primary target, allowing him to easily slip through screens, coverages, defenders and get to the paint particularly easily.
But, his next playoff year, 2014, was an unmitigated disaster, precipitated by an off-court situation that infiltrated his head and affected his game. Hibbert played like he was in a coma. He didn’t want to be out there and it showed. The soft label, the weak label, the fragile label, the he sucks label, came back with a velocity that spun Hibbert’s head into seizures. He was awful on the basketball court.
He played 19 playoff games in 2014. Ten of those he scored 10 points or less. In 4 playoff games, he didn’t score a point. Only twice did he have double digit rebounds. In two playoff games, he had 0 offensive rebounds and 0 defensive rebounds, this from a seven footer.
The Paul George injury was a death knell for Roy Hibbert. In 2014-15 teams would pack the paint and force Hibbert to do things he couldn’t. His ineffectiveness fed a rabid Hibbert-is-garbage crowd, and once again, his mental toughness was affected.
This past season, HIbbert made 44% of his two point shots and a decent amount of his long two’s, 40%. His 56% from 0-3 feet is particularly weak for a seven footer but is an example of his athleticism or lack thereof. His 7 rebounds a game was an improvement over 2013-14 but could not match his career highs of 8 rebounds (2011-13).
The Lakers best rebounder(s) last year were Jordan Hill and Ed Davis, 8 rebounds per game, but neither were 7 feet tall and both struggled with rim protection which was what the Lakers were desperae for.
And so it was a perfect storm, two teams needing a change. What the Pacers didn’t account for was the outrage of David West. West surprised the organization by being the one who opted-out of his contract, not Roy Hibbert. Part of the reasoning was what the organization, Larry Bird in particular, said about Hibbert to the media. West is one of the more principled and intellectual NBA players who says what he thinks and when a wrong is committed he can’t let it go.
I’m the type of guy who feels we are all in this together and I’m not designed in that way to put it all on one guy. That did rub me the wrong way. That threw me off. I started thinking, Whoa. I just didn’t feel good about that. I told Roy that it bothered me, that he’s still my teammate. You know, obviously, Roy wants to play, he knows he’s unpopular right now but we talked and he’s going to be professional. He’s always been a professional. He’s going to fight.
In a twist of irony, neither West nor Hibbard is with the Pacers. The difference in both men is striking. West was outraged over how HIbbard was treated and left. Hibbert was not outraged and stayed. He was willing to soldier on for the money’s sake which brings it all back to why everyone thinks Hibbard is missing a huge chunk of heart. What type of player takes abuse from their organization, inciting media vilification and fan revulsion, and still chooses to be there.
A player wanting the money.
photo via commons.wikimedia.org