It’s been quite the transformation for Roy Hibbert, from major project as a freshman at Georgetown to foul-prone rookie to top prize in 2012 free agency.
The 7-foot center, the anchor in the middle for the 31-21 Indiana Pacers, is averaging 12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his fourth season in the league, numbers that earned him a spot on the East All-Star squad.
It was that hard-earned honor that brought out a secret from Hibbert — the Houston Rockets had motivated him.
Hibbert said that the Rockets informed him before the 2008 Draft that if they took him, they would have sent him to the NBDL for some work. That revelation created a lot of buzz with Rockets fans. The team said that Hibbert was never told that.
Ultimately it didn’t matter — the Pacers scooped up Hibbert with the 17th selection, eight picks before the Rockets were on the clock. Still, I was anxious to hear Hibbert’s account of it and got that chance before Houston’s 104-102 overtime loss to Indiana on Sunday night.
“They told me they had Yao Ming, Luis Scola and Dikembe Mutombo at the time, so there was a lot of depth at that same spot,” said Hibbert. “They told me that if they drafted me if I was around, I think they were at 25 or 26, that I’d be sent to the D-League.”
The Rockets have made liberal use of their affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, having sent first round picks Aaron Brooks (2007-08), Patrick Patterson (2010-11) and Marcus Morris (2011-12) for stints with the Vipers during their rookie seasons. In fact, the only first round picks in the last five years that the Rockets haven’t sent to the D-League are players that they haven’t had the chance to — Donte Greene was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 2008 before the season began and Donatas Motiejunas has been playing overseas.
However, Hibbert’s reaction to the idea of being sent there to get some development time shows the “demotion” stigma still associated with the D-League… at least in 2008.
“You know, during the draft process, you’d be like, ‘That’s fine, we’re going to have to do this’ — no,” said Hibbert. “In my heart, I didn’t want to go to the D-League. I knew I was better than that. Luckily I got chosen by Indiana and I was able to prosper here.”
Hibbert had some question marks going into the draft, so surely the Rockets weren’t saying anything unique, were they?
“They were the only team that told me that,” said Hibbert.
Contacted Sunday night with Hibbert’s account of the events, the Rockets deny anyone with the team told him that at all.
Hibbert will be a restricted free agent this offseason. The Rockets may have other plans with the millions in cap room they are expected to have, but given the size deficiency the past few seasons in Houston, a 25-year old big man with an All-Star notch on his belt certainly has to get a look.
But four years later, will Hibbert take that same look back at Houston?
“You got to give it up to them for being truthful to the players,” said Hibbert. “But I’m happy I didn’t come here.”