The Indiana Pacers find themselves in a tough predicament.
At a press conference last Wednesday, new president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh called re-signing 25-year-old center Roy Hibbert “a top priority.”
Over the weekend, the Portland Trailblazers offered Hibbert a max four-year $58 million contract.
While the small-market Pacers have been extra thrifty in recent years to get the franchise on better financial footing, Hibbert will be a tough player to let go.
The Pacers also have to be concerned with re-signing George Hill and prospecting for free agents that can help take the team to the next level.
Not only has Hibbert turned into an all-star on the court, he’s also turned into a fan favorite who has been as active as any Pacer in this community off the court.
Hibbert’s work for the Children’s Wish Fund and other charitable organizations in this town is well-known.
Two years ago, Hibbert founded Area 55. He bought 55 season tickets and hand-picked the 55 loudest Pacers fans to place in the section inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert regularly talks to the crowd in Area 55, throws them private parties and has even been known to take them to the movies. It’s difficult to put a price tag on that type of personality and presence in the community.
Hibbert, a Georgetown alum, is no small reason for the Pacers resurgence, and may be the biggest reason why the local community has started to re-embrace the team.
Because Hibbert is a restricted free agent, the Pacers can match any offer to keep him. When Larry Bird was in charge, Pacers Coach Frank Vogel was confident that was going to happen.
“Of course this isn't going to be [Hibbert’s] last time in Indy, he’s not going anywhere,” Vogel said at one of Hibbert’s charity events last month.
“I love our team so much, there’s such a great positive chemistry and any time you see any of those guys, it just lights up,” Vogel added. “We’re going to get every single one of them (free agents) back. The Pacers are going to shoot for the moon.”
Shooting for the moon can cost a lot of money, and it’s not clear now whether team owner Herb Simon and the new management staff has the stomach for such spending.
Pacers fans are about to find out how high a “top priority” is under Walsh. If it turns out not to be high enough to retain Hibbert, the Pacers might find fan support is deflated significantly next season.