The Indiana Pacers aren’t going to let the Portland Trail Blazers steal their starting center.
Roy Hibbert was offered a four-year, $58 million deal by the Trail Blazers, but because of his restricted free agent status, the Pacers have the right to match.
As Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star pointed out, Indiana won’t actually be matching the offer Portland extended. Instead, they have offered Hibbert the same deal to avoid additional paperwork with the league office.
The Blazers offered the most they could under the collective bargaining agreement just a few hours after free agency opened on July 1, but the Pacers didn’t let word leak out of their plans to retain Hibbert until more than a week later. However, don’t let the timing of it all fool you -- they had no intention of letting him leave.
Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard kicked the tires on other options at center, guys like Chris Kaman and Omer Asik, but were looking more to see how expensive they would be add to their bench than to replace Hibbert in the starting lineup.
The Pacers didn’t draft Hibbert, but he has only known one NBA team. The Toronto Raptors took the former Georgetown big man with the 17th pick in 2008, presumably at the request of Indiana because a few days later he was packaged with T.J. Ford, Maceo Baston and Rasho Nesterovic in exchange for Jermaine O’Neal and Nathan Jawai.
Hibbert has improved in each of his four seasons as his scoring, rebounding and block averages have all increased from year-to-year. He was named to his first All-Star team in February and finished the 2011-12 season by posting 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Taking a quick glance, Hibbert doesn’t seem worthy of a “max” contract, but this is a special case for a number of reasons. First of all, as a traditional back-to-the-basket center, he is a valuably commodity. They are a rare breed as European influence continues to seep into the NBA. Most big men enter the league today with a perimeter jump shot and devoid of post moves.
This “max” contract is also a unique case because he isn’t receiving the maximum amount he could have in terms of either money or years. The Pacers could have given Hibbert between $2 million and $3 million more over the life of a four-year deal because of an incumbent team’s rights. They also could have given him a five-year deal, as they did with fellow restricted free agent and 2008 draftee George Hill last week. This certainly isn’t a Joe Johnson-like albatross of a contract.
While Hibbert may struggle to live up to a contract that will pay him an average of $14.5 million per season, putting him among the NBA’s top 30 highest-paid players, the Pacers actually played their hand rather well.
Grade for the Pacers: A-
If they were proactive as they were with Hill, they would have been forced to pay Hibbert more or for longer (both points mentioned above). Indiana also knows better than anyone else how hard the he works and how much he truly cares about getting better. Danny Granger may be the longest-tenured member of the Pacers and Hill might be a hometown boy, but Hibbert is far-and-away the team’s most popular player.
The impact a player has off the court is often times overstated, but losing Hibbert would have been a major public relations disaster for the Pacers, who are just know earning back the trust of their fans.
The Pacers ranked second-to-last in average home attendance this past season, even though they finished with the fifth-best record in the league and maintained a clean image. A respectable performance against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat, however, appeared to reinvigorate the city. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was full and among the loudest arenas of the 2012 postseason.
Hibbert, along with his Area 55 section, also still has the potential to grow.
He is one of the best offensive rebounders in the game and anchors a vastly-improved defensive team under Frank Vogel. Next season he will enter his first full season under Vogel with a normal training camp and schedule. He is getting more and more comfortable in a body that underwent three transformations in his first three seasons.
Hibbert has also worked with a sports psychologist that has helped him overcome issues with inconsistency and he has come out of those treatments with improved confidence.
He battled foul trouble in his first two-plus seasons, but has gotten better at picking his spots and has learned how to defend well without fouling. The most important aspect of that is he has maintained his ability to block shots, if not improved on it.
The best-case scenario for the Pacers would be for Hibbert to play a handful more minutes per game. He averaged a career-high 29.8 over the 66-game slate (he missed just one) and worked to increase his stamina by meeting with a nutritionist. His per-36 numbers for this past season were: 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He shot close to 50% from the field.
The main concern going forward, for both the Pacers and Hibbert, is what will happen if David West leaves as a free agent next summer. Hibbert was effective before the power forward arrived last December, but West takes pressure off of Hibbert in an incalculable way. West has a jumper that can draw away a defender, making it harder to double Hibbert.
Keeping West won’t be easy financially and it may be even harder when we learn just how many sales pitches he’ll hear next summer. Next season alone the quartet of Hill, Granger, West and Hibbert will make around $45 million. You can’t forget about Paul George either. If he continues on his current path, he’ll be in line for a huge deal as a restricted free agent in 2014.
Hibbert and his agent, David Falk, passed on a contract extension with the Pacers during the season that would have kept the center from the market this month. We don’t know the exact figures, but you can assume that the offer was worth less than $58 million and Falk was right to gamble on restricted free agency.
Making the All-Star team and then putting together a solid and mostly consistent season, allowed Hibbert to increase his pricetag as time wore on. A source told me in early February that he could make $11 million annually, but we now know the price to keep Hibbert was significantly greater.
Grade for Hibbert: A+
In reality, Hibbert gets a $58 million deal because he’s a big man with a clean record and a drive to improve. Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol signed nearly identical deals with the Knicks and Grizzlies, respectively. DeAndre Jordan got $43 million over four years from the Clippers. The Nuggets gave Nene more than $67 million over five years before dealing him to the Wizards.
It’s a good time to be tall.