Roy Hibbert’s Future With Indiana Pacers in Doubt

Mar 31, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at Barclays Center. The Nets defeated the Pacers 111 - 106. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at Barclays Center. The Nets defeated the Pacers 111 - 106. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers held their annual end-of-season press conference today, and at first Larry Bird’s talking points about playing smaller and scoring more points last year sounded like typical coach speak (or team president speak?). But both Bird and Frank Vogel were rather blunt about Roy Hibbert and his role with the team going forward.

“I was talking to coach earlier,” said Bird. “We’d like to play a faster tempo. I don’t know where we rank offensive in the league, but I think we need to score more points. That means we need to run a little faster, maybe at times play a little smaller. I don’t know what style, but I’d like to change it a little bit.”

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Bird even mentioned moving Paul George to the power forward position at times to facilitate a move to smaller, faster lineup. This would be a large departure from the “smashmouth” style that coach Frank Vogel has employed in years past, which has kept the Pacers as, along with the Memphis Grizzlies and few other teams, a traditional “center/power forward” team down low at virtually all times.

A change naturally brings into question Roy Hibbert’s role in such a system.

And Bird’s feelings on that matter seemed quite clear from his response when a reporter asked him about Roy Hibbert’s potentially opting out of his contract this summer.

“Whatever he does, he does,” said Bird. “I don’t know what he’s going to do. We assume he’s going to be back. If he comes back we’re probably going to play a different style and I can’t guarantee him anything, he’s going to have to earn it.”

Bird’s assessment of Hibbert’s play this season wasn’t much of an endorsement either. “I didn’t think he played well, to be honest … I thought at times he played well, he always plays hard, he’s very durable — but I don’t think he had a great year.”

Then there was this bomb, which is classic Bird.

Bird said he and Vogel had talked about going smaller and giving the other centers, Ian Mahinmi and LaVoy Allen more run. Bird talked positively about the rest of the roster, but he wasn’t afraid to criticize Hibbert even after complimenting him.

Vogel had more compliments — as he always does compared to Bird — but was just as clear in his comments.

All this could be the normal preaching of change after the end of a season, but there are other factors that make it seem like Hibbert’s relationship with the team and fans isn’t what it once as.

Rumor has it that Area 55 is being shut down.

For the past five seasons, Roy Hibbert has bought a small section of tickets and hosted a competition each summer to select the wildest, craziest fans. The winners have gotten free tickets, dressed in blue-and-gold costumes, and tried to turn The Fieldhouse into more of a college-like atmosphere. It was deemed successful and George Hill and Paul George joined forces in subsequent seasons to form a similar section called “The G2 Zone.”

But while the G2 Zone is expected to stick around, various members of a Area 55 say it wont exist next year.

Hibbert didn’t re-sign with the Pacers last time when given the opportunity to stay in Indiana.

Instead, he inked a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Pacers used their league-granted contractual right to just match that offer and retain him. Hibbert was reportedly disappointed at the time and really did want to go to Portland as opposed to just using the offer sheet as a bargaining move. He was at the airport on his way to Portland when he got the news that forced him to turn around and head back to Indianapolis, where he has since had a contentious relationship with fans and some members of the team.

It is clear both Bird and Vogel aren’t afraid to publicly let Hibbert know things have to change. It could all be a vocal kick in the ass to get him back to the All-Star level he once was at or it could be a kick out the door.

The ball is now in Hibbert’s court.

He has always been soft-skinned to criticism and he has no doubt already heard the loud-and-clear message that those running the Pacers just sent him.

Before today, it seemed highly unlikely that the 7’2″ center would sever his contract this summer and pass up the $15 million he could earn with Pacers next season. But now, after hearing such talk from two men who had usually had his back and few negative things to say (in public), he has to at least be considering a move to somewhere new.

Next: Why the Indiana Pacers Missed the Playoffs

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