According to a report by Sean Deveney of the Sporting News, the Pacers are ¨quietly¨ shopping Roy Hibbert. Deveney cites several front-office sources, and the general takeaway is that Larry Bird is open to the idea, but perhaps not eagerly, and asking around.
“They’re open to making major changes, if they’re there,” one general manager told Sporting News. “I think they’d be disappointed to see that same core group back intact, so it is a matter of, how drastic can the changes they make be? Moving Hibbert for multiple pieces would be a pretty drastic change, but they’re asking.”
One source noted the obvious, which is that star small forward Paul George is untouchable in any deal with the Pacers, and added that power forward David West was all but off the table, too. He added that Indiana’s preference would be to send Hibbert to the Western Conference
This writing was on the wall when, last week, Marc Stein of ESPN reported that Bird was asking about Goran Dragic. It doesn´t take long — and we did just this — to look down the Pacers roster and figure out which assets might get Phoenix to field that phone call. Take David West out of the equation, note that Phoenix reportedly doesn´t want Lance Stephenson, and the big fella is all else there really is to talk about.
None of this really means anything will happen. Teams talk about players all the time — it´s what the summer is for — and most talks lead nowhere. But it seems clear that Bird is open to any move he thinks can improve the team and that he is gauging the market for, literally, his biggest player.
I understand why he would be curious.
Honestly, what is the market for Roy Hibbert? I have no idea and, really, who could know?
The 7´2¨ hulk of a human was the runaway favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year until a February swoon — for him and his team — made him look more like a liability than a titan. Then came the playoffs, when he repeatedly played games without scoring a point or grabbing a rebound.
There now have to be some teams that simply want no part of Hibbert, a guy who is owed roughly $30 million over the next seasons (presuming he doesn´t use his player option to opt out of the final year of his contract next summer).
If the salary cap hit isn´t enough to scare GMs away, there are still the stylistic issues. Any team playing Hibbert for 30 minutes per game will have a tough time getting an effective transition game going. He can neither keep up nor turn rebounds into quick outlets.
On the other end of the court, a team with Hibbert can forget some defensive schemes. Indiana has created the best defense in recent memory using Hibbert as an anchor to protect the rim behind its two long, strong, athletic wings. This can clearly be replicated elsewhere, though not having Paul George will complicate matters for another coach. But while that will be appealing to some, other coaches want big men who are comfortable playing out to the three-point line — or beyond — while trapping, ïcing,¨ or blitzing ballhandlers in the pick and roll. Any team with Hibbert simply cannot use these strategies on a team-wide basis.
There is no doubt that most executives throughout the league realize that Hibbert can be a tremendous asset on the court. And there are definitely plenty who will want him on their roster even at the high price of more than $14 million per season. But anyone who trades for Hibbert is putting themselves into a box somewhat; they are limiting flexibility in their style of play, and they need to make sure that they employ a coach who is equipped and eager to scheme, at least somewhat, around Hibbert´s strengths while masking his limitations.
Frank Vogel faced this very conundrum when the big man his defense is predicated on fell apart against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. And his belief that the team had to play a certain way nearly cost Indiana the series — and, if you like media rumors, it may have nearly cost Vogel his job.
That is the flipside to all this: Vogel´s greatest triumph as a coach has been creating a great — in the real sense of the word — defense. Under his watch, Hibbert became the most imposing defender in the NBA, and we were talking about the Pacers as being in the conversation with the best defenses of all time.
There are indeed players who, if Indiana traded Roy, could step in and fill the same role well. Ian Mahinmi, for instance, protected the rim just as effectively for much of the second half of last season (in terms of limiting the opposition´s restricted area shooting percentage, albeit usually against second-unit competition).
Still, those players aren´t abundantly available, none of them are 7´2¨ with years of built-up chemistry and timing playing behind these wings, and do you really think a team that plays Mahinmi for 30 minutes a night can make the NBA Finals?
Vogel has a keen defensive mind and could likely pivot stylistically if his rim protector was taken away. But you wonder to what degree he would end looking like Buddy Ryan in his first few years coaching the Eagles, stuck using a system that the league had adjusted to and trying to do it without the ideal personnel he once had.
All of Vogel and Hibbert´s success has coincided. Perhaps they will both thrive seperately, but who knows? If Vogel can no longer power the Pacers to play the best defense in the league, what is Indiana left with? His touch coaching offensive basketball in the NBA has been largely — let´s be kind and say — unsuccessful. Maybe that, too, has been tied to the limitations of playing Hibbert in the middle along with so many other large players. But maybe he just won´t ever coach a formidable offense.
So if you move Hibbert and you lose the defense and Vogel can´t command a better offense then what exactly do you have? Do you have a team that can even be counted on to beat the Raptors or the Wizards?
It´s impossible to know.
I´m certainly curious to know — and it seems that Larry Bird might be as well.
Ultimately, removing the big man and his big contract from Indiana while building a future around two sub-25-year-old wonder-wings, in George and Stephenson, might be the best course forward for the Pacers. If they chose to do that, however, they are definitely steppping into the unknown.