After a roller coaster season that saw the best and worst of the Indiana Pacers, a new start may be necessary to pick up the pieces. The man at the center of storm is Roy Hibbert, the “All-Star” center whom they call their “defensive anchor.” That being said, late in the season Hibbert became a different kind of “anchor,” one that sunk their ship to the bottom of the sea.
First, Hibbert came up to media in the middle of their late season struggles and opened up about the “selfish dudes” on the team. Then he virtually vanished in the playoffs as the Pacers mightily struggled to protect the home court edge they worked so hard for.
So with the nightmare season over, should the Indiana Pacers trade Roy Hibbert?
The Pacers started to struggle after the All-Star break, which was about the same time that Roy Hibbert’s numbers started to decline. In the weeks leading to the “selfish dudes” interview, Hibbert was acting strangely. In a report by ESPN.com’s Mark Stein back on May 28, 2014:
“For several games leading up to the ‘selfish’ comment, Hibbert teetered in interviews with the media after losses. Several times he came to the brink of saying something and then bit his tongue. He was struggling and not getting the ball — seven times in a month, he scored six points or fewer and his touches had dropped. The loss that night was the fourth time in five games the Pacers failed to break 80 points. Hibbert was in his hometown and had just struggled again in his old college arena and he’d finally had enough.”
According to the ESPN.com report, that statement broke the trust that Hibbert’s teammates had for him because he didn’t address them first before he did the media. Add the fact that they were already pissed off by his poor performance on the court.
“‘It divided the locker room big time.’ The Pacers didn’t become one of the best teams in the league on talent alone. Their chemistry — until about February — was a strong bond that appeared unbreakable. But Hibbert, according to sources, defied a core belief of the team, which is to keep dirty laundry in-house.”
Paul George‘s fishing picture temporarily halted the issue, and the Pacers eliminated the Washington Wizards during the 2nd round. However, an issue like that never dies, and it’s back again as Indiana was eliminated by the Miami Heat.
The New Agent Zero
There were four games when Roy Hibbert scored zero points in the postseason, and he accomplished the “feat” at least once in each of the three rounds.
Here they are:
|Game 5 vs. Atlanta||0||0-2||0||1|
|Game 6 vs. Atlanta||0||0-1||2||1|
|Game 1 vs. Washington||0||0-2||0||2|
|Game 4 vs. Miami||0||0-4||5||1|
The Pacers were 1-3 during those games, and the lone win came in the win-or-go home Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks during the first round. That being said, two of the three losses were crucial.
The Pacers lost Game 1 to the Wizards, but they won the next three games. Had they won Game 1, they would’ve swept Washington and had more time to rest. The final score was 102-96 in that Game 1, while Hibbert averaged 12.8 points per game in that series.
In Game 4 against the Heat, the Pacers were only down 44-49 at halftime. Miami ended up winning 102-90, but Hibbert’s 10.8 points per game average could’ve made things more interesting if he would have performed in that Game 4. With the win, Miami built a crucial 3-1 series lead. The Pacers then won Game 5, and would’ve been up 3-2 instead if they would have won Game 4 as well.
Aside from being blanked four times, Hibbert was held to single digit scoring in eight other playoff games this year. Hibbert also had two “zero games” during the final month of the regular season. His April regular season scoring average was only 5.3 points per game, a far cry from his 10.8 points per game regular season average.
Other than the 28 point outburst against Washington, Hibbert’s presence wasn’t really felt in the postseason, although he did have decent numbers. His performance was a far cry from his 2013 postseason performance, where he looked like the future of the NBA.
Look at the comparison on his averages:
This regression is not a result of getting old. Hibbert is just 27-years old. The 2013-14 playoffs will always be remembered for one of the most unbelievable regressions in NBA history, and sadly that was Roy Hibbert. Many have speculated the reason, but the truth remains a mystery. After losing Game 1 to the Wizards, which was his third scoreless game in the last four at that time, Hibbert said this to Pacers.com, via SI.com:
“I’m going to look within myself and go out there and figure it out. … I got to come out and be aggressive. I got to be a different Roy Hibbert than I have been.”
In all fairness, Roy Hibbert improved his performance since he made that statement. Hibbert scored 28 points in the next game, as the Pacers beat the Wizards in Game 2. He scored in double-digits in the next seven playoff games after that, but in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers still yielded Game 2 and the all important home court advantage to the Miami Heat. It was all that Miami needed to eliminate the Pacers. Miami won all three games on their home court and advanced in 6 games.
Losing Home Court Edge
All season long, the Pacers worked so hard to get home court advantage. Paul George said this in a report by SI.com on January 16, 2014:
“We’re one of the best teams in the postseason last year defending our home court. We just know how big home-court advantage is when it comes down to postseason. That’s one of our main goals this year is to lock up the first seed so we can have the opportunity to play at home throughout the whole playoffs.”
Unfortunately, the Pacers gave up that advantage in all three rounds they played. While they were able to get off the hook during the first two rounds, Miami wanted it more than the Pacers. Losing home court edge broke their aura of invincibility. Along with the bipolar nature of the team late in the season, a collapse was imminent.
Losing on the court was not entirely Hibbert’s fault, but his basketball performance and off court actions late in the season took a toll on the team’s mental state. It shattered the fragile foundation of this young team and doomed their season. So while he started the season as their rock, he finished it like a scapegoat.
Time for Change?
According to ESPN.com, both Roy Hibbert and Management may have had enough of the roller coaster ride. They all want a change:
“There is said to be some thought on both sides — management and Hibbert’s — that a fresh start would be beneficial for everyone after the big man’s second-half decline. Hibbert’s camp hasn’t outright asked for a trade, sources say, but word is that it wouldn’t exactly oppose one if the Pacers decide to actively shop their center.”
But the problem with Hibbert is that he still has two years and $30 million left on his contract, with the 2nd year being a player option. Shopping him might be tricky because he could opt out after a year, and teams wouldn’t be willing to give up assets for some one year rental; especially not after how Hibbert played in the 2nd half of the season.
So even if Hibbert and the Pacers want change, that may have to wait as there may be no takers at this point in time. Or if there are takers, the Pacers might not get an equal and appropriate asset in return.
The Next Step
The Pacers are young and talented. They will still be one of the top 3 teams in the Eastern Confernece next season with this line-up. GM Larry Bird will try to glue the team together again; however like a shattered glass you can put it together again, but it won’t look the same.
Like in all relationships, trust is the most important thing. If his teammates can no longer trust Roy Hibbert, then the Pacers have to trade him, no matter how difficult that will be. A fresh start is what the Pacers need. It’s also what Hibbert needs.
Both the Indiana Pacers and Roy Hibbert still have a great future ahead of them in the NBA, it just might not be together.