Robin Lopez wants to be the Orlando Magic’s utility player

Robin Lopez has made a career of doing whatever his team needs. That is what he brings to the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Rob Carr/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Robin Lopez has made a career of doing whatever his team needs. That is what he brings to the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Rob Carr/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports /

The first thing Robin Lopez wanted everyone to is that he and Orlando Magic mascot STUFF have ended their long-running feud and come to an understanding. They have plans for the year.

As if on cue, about 10 minutes later, STUFF popped up on Lopez’s introductory ZOOM conference to ask — via cue card — a very important question and officially welcome the mascot-hating Lopez to the team.

There is peace in the world once more.

That is part of the personality Lopez brings to the team. He is ready to have plenty of fun. Everyone knows his devotion and fandom toward all things Disney — a product of growing up in Southern California and being able to go to Disneyland — and he spent his offseason working on authoring anime with his brother Brook.

Lopez gives a laid-back vibe that would seemingly mesh well with a young roster. But there is still the seriousness of the task ahead and the work it will take to find success, however the team wants to define it. He comes to the Magic knowing exactly what his role is.

"“I’ve always liked to think of myself as a utility guy whatever the team needs that night, I attempt to fill that role,” Lopez said during a press conference with media Wednesday. “As far as my role with the Magic, I’m going to help a lot of guys be the veteran especially the bigs. I kind of like to think of my role right now as the relief pitcher in baseball. The relief pitcher, they’re always a little rotund. They’re not playing every night necessarily. But they are going in there and making an impact when the team needs them.”"

That little bit of self-referential humor is part of the package with Lopez for sure. He has good perspective on himself and the league. He has seen it all — playing for a contending team like the 2020 Milwaukee Bucks and plenty of teams who struggled to keep their head above water.

Lopez has played the role of the veteran on several teams now, and it is a role he is seeking out.

Robin Lopez sought out a role where he could be the veteran leader and help a young team grow. Even if that means he is not playing every night. He is with the Orlando Magic to do whatever they need.

Lopez signed a one-year, $5-million contract with the team this offseason, a surprising move for a 13-year veteran to sign with a team expected to be among the worst in the league this year. He knows that with two young centers in Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba also on the roster that he might not play every night.

But that is the role he accepted and wanted. He wants to be the leader, showing young players the way and being available to do whatever the team needs — both during games and after.

"“I’m going to do what I can,” Lopez said Wednesday. “I think once the ball is tipped off and we see everybody in action, that’s going to help everybody out a lot more. it’s going to help me have an idea of what people’s strengths are. I like to lead by example. I’ll be verbal when I have to. Whatever the situation calls for.”"

Do not act like Lopez cannot contribute to the team in the short term though.

Lopez averaged 9.0 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game last year in 19.1 minutes per game for the Washington Wizards. He appeared in 71 games and started nine, showing he still has plenty in the tank to help a team on the court.

Lopez has never been much of an offensive player. His value always came as a screener and in the margins. According to Basketball Index, Lopez averaged 5.5 screen assists per 75 possessions last year, ranking him in the 94th percentile in the league.

That is the kind of player Lopez has always been — someone who screens well but does not score (or have much roll gravity) and hits the offensive glass. The development of his now-patented hook shot has given him at least one strong offensive weapon he can rely on.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But Lopez’s main role for this team is to be the experienced player to rely on. Lopez acknowledged he will not play every night. He understands that is part of his playing role. And so he is there to help set an example.

As everyone seems to note, having veterans around during a rebuild are critical to their success as things can get derailed quickly. And they need players who have been around the block to help keep the team focused on the bigger goals.

"“The first thing that comes to my mind is there are going to be ups and there are going to be downs,” Lopez said Wednesday. “I think one of the things I learned earliest on in the NBA is you can’t get discouraged when somebody scores on you. I know some young teams I have been on, they see the ball go through the bucket and they hang their heads. You’ve got to get the ball right out of the hoop, right back inbounds and push it back the other way. that’s the metaphor for the mindset you have to during the season.”"

That attitude will certainly jive with the seemingly up-tempo style coach Jamahl Mosley is supposedly trying to foster. Playing with pace certainly means getting up the court quicker and Mosley certainly has a reputation for more pressure defenses that quicken a team’s tempo.

Lopez said his early impression of the coaching staff is they have defined player roles well already with further development certainly still to come as they get on the court more formally. Lopez is still settling in and meeting his teammates. But he is already impressed with what he has seen.

"“We’ve got a lot of skilled young guys and a lot of potential,” Lopez said Wednesday. “What I like in them is they put in the work in the gym. That’s necessary. I think everybody is going to have to hold each other accountable. They are going to have to be honest and have each other’s backs.”"

And that is what is going to be chief among Lopez’s responsibilities. He and the other veterans will have to help maintain a positive, but an accountable environment. This is why buy-in is so important from the veteran players. They will give the young players the cue that staying the course will lead to the wins down the road.

Lopez said he believes the coaches, staff and players are fostering that kind of environment. And that is ultimately why Lopez is in Orlando.

Next. Jonathan Isaac's return will come in stages. dark

His part to play will be to help this young team find its way. And that means doing whatever is needed whether he is on the court or not.