Dating back to last summer when Portland’s pursuit of All-Star center Roy Hibbert ended in failure, the Trail Blazers have longed for a 7-foot veteran starter who could serve as a defensive backstop.
On Thursday, the Blazers finally landed their greatest desire.
According to multiple reports, Portland received 7-foot center Robin Lopez through a three-team trade. Yahoo Sports reported that in return for Lopez, Portland will send the rights of draft pick Jeff Withey to New Orleans as well as a future second-round selection to Sacramento. Also in the deal, the Blazers picked up guard Terrel Harris from New Orleans.
The trade cannot become official until Wednesday.
Lopez, a five-year veteran, played and started in all 82 games for the New Orleans Hornets last year. Through the 2012-2013 season, Lopez averaged career-bests with 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Although his twin brother, Brook, has reached All-Star status as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Robin Lopez has made his way in the league as a defensive-minded big — something that the Blazers’ best player has coveted since the Hibbert deal fell through.
“It’s definitely trendy to have more small ball,” All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said in January, “but if you think back to the old days, having a center — that meant rings. Shaq, David Robinson and Tim (Duncan) together. Bill Russell. That’s just what I always thought. OKC has (Kendrick) Perkins, he’s a true center. Dallas had Tyson Chandler and he’s a true center. So I think most times you need that centerpiece.”
Synergy Sports rated Lopez as a player who held opponents to under 47-percent shooting while defending five common NBA plays. More than any other play, Lopez defended the post-up 192 times and offensive players only shot 38.5 percent against his man-on-man defense.
Lopez patrolling the middle will be a welcome sight for the Blazers who ranked last in the NBA in allowing 47.2 points in the paint.
After player exit interviews in the spring, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey highlighted the starting center position as the team’s greatest offseason need.
“It’s obvious. We had a tough time protecting the rim, we had a tough time giving up points in the paint. And that’s not an indictment on JJ Hickson. We asked a 6-9 power forward to play center every night,” Olshey told reporters in April. “We’ve got to get our interior defense better. That’s my job. Whether it’s via draft, trade or free agency to make sure that’s not a hole Terry (Stotts) walks into next training camp to address.”
The addition of Lopez also helps the Blazers grow up a little more.
Though the Blazers drafted Withey, a 7-0 center from Kansas, with the 39th pick in the recent draft, the team surrenders his potential for experience.
Portland has now traded three of its 2013 second-round draft picks: sending the 45th selection, Marko Todorovic, to help acquire power forward Thomas Robinson in a trade from Houston, and the 40th overall pick Grant Jerrett to Oklahoma City for cash considerations.