The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Sports

July 3, 2012

Blazers tempt Hibbert

Portland goes hard after restricted free agent center

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — OK, Indiana Pacers, your move.

Portland sent a strong message to the Indiana franchise on the first day of the NBA free agency period Sunday, as the Trailblazers offered Pacers center Roy Hibbert a maximum contract of four years for $58 million.

Hibbert is expected to sign an offer sheet at his first opportunity, which will be July 11, while Indiana will have three days to decide to match the offer to the restricted free agent  once it’s signed or let him go.

Last week, new Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard made the statement that the team would try and re-sign the 7-foot-2 All-Star center, but Hibbert’s receiving a maximum deal by Portland could invariably alter that decision.

“You are always trying to upgrade your team,” Pritchard said. “We think our starting five is pretty effective. We still have work to do to retain Hibbert and (George) Hill. We’re going to work our tail off, and we are going to get those guys done.”

Hill reportedly agreed to a new five-year deal with Indiana on Monday. He averaged 9.6 points and 2.9 assists per game during the regular season and  increased his scoring to 13.5 points per game in the playoffs.

Hill also drew the defensive assignment against Dwyane Wade, harassing the Miami Heat guard as the Pacers built a 2-1 series lead.

So it was an easy decision to bring the Indianapolis native back into the fold.

But can Indiana also afford Hibbert at $14.5 million per season?

The Pacers actually have a lot going for them in terms of retaining Hibbert. First of all, if they match the offer, they retain his services. Secondly, Hibbert has spoken very favorably in the past about his affinity for this franchise and the direction that it is headed. And thirdly, Indiana can actually offer a fifth year and $21 million more than any other team can award the 25-year-old center.

With Indiana having rebuilt its franchise with young talent and poised to be an Eastern Conference contender for years to come, new team president Donnie Walsh stated recently that it was imperative to keep the talent that Indiana has already acquired.

“When you talk about free agents,” Walsh explained, “the No. 1 priority for a team that has had a good year is to retain your own players, and that will be our priority.”

Yeah, but at $14.5 million per season?

Indiana added depth to its frontcourt in last Thursday’s NBA draft with the first round selection of 6-foot-10 Miles Plumlee, another Indiana native who was born in Fort Wayne and raised in Warsaw before playing high school basketball in North Carolina.

That selection was made by outgoing team president Larry Bird, who perhaps knew what would ultimately happen in regards to Hibbert being a coveted player on the open market.

“Right now, we don’t have no centers,” Bird said at the time. “We feel like (Plumlee) will be a Jeff Foster-type player, and that is good enough for us.”

Hibbert was obtained from Toronto during the summer of 2008 and has steadily progressed through his four seasons. After averaging just over seven points and three rebounds as a rookie, Hibbert put up averages of nearly 13 points and nine boards this season. In February, he made his initial All-Star Game appearance.

During Indiana’s playoff run this spring, Hibbert averaged more than 11 points and as many rebounds in 11 games.

“It’s interesting,” Pritchard said recently, “Donnie and I have had many conversations over the past few days, people have written about it and there are analytics about it, but continuity moving forward with good teams is really important. You want to keep the semblance of same guys because for whatever reason, they learn each other better. You look at the elite teams that have had sustained success, they stay together from year to year, with small changes. This team isn’t about blowing it up and starting anew. We have to keep the same pieces in place, and we’ve got to keep growing.”

Hoosier coming home?

There were reports that Indiana met with former Indiana University guard Eric Gordon on Sunday.

Gordon is a restricted free agent with the New Orleans Hornets, who have indicated that they will match any offer extended to Gordon.

The 6-foot-3 guard has averaged more than 18 points per game through his four-year career. However, he played in just nine games this season because of a knee injury.

A New Orleans teammate of Gordon’s that could enter the Pacers’ picture if things go awry with Hibbert is former Hornets center Chris Kaman.

The 7-foot-1 post player is an unrestricted free agent, and the Pacers have expressed interest in Kaman before.

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