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Larry Bird and Frank Vogel Talk Pacers’ Offseason

Larry Bird took to the stage last Friday to discuss the past year and the year ahead. In a light blue shirt and a navy blazer, Bird picks up his water bottle and takes a sip, but before he could even put the cap on the questions came flying.

“Larry, I think the question a lot of people have is just your approach to free agency this year; you have like six guys whose contracts are up, what are your thoughts on that?”

Bird looks down at the mic and riffs off a calculated answer in that French Lick accent so many Pacers fans have grown to know. That was the first of a series of questions on the team, mainly about Roy Hibbert, free agency and guys he would like to have back.

Hibbert has been the subject of much criticism in the past two seasons, and after last year’s disastrous string of playoff “performances,” the rumors have persisted about the big man leaving Indy.

“We assume he’s going to be back and if he comes back, we’re probably going to play another style.”

Ouch, right?

“And I can’t guarantee him anything. He’s going to have to earn it.”

Area 55. Direct hit. But is it enough to sink the battleship?

Hibbert is entering the last year of his four-year, $58 million deal, and the last of those four years, Hibbert has a player option. If he accepts, he’ll be on the Pacers’ books for another year at around $15.5 million, something that Bird doesn’t seem too pleased with.

He may not be the only one.

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel also spoke on Hibbert, saying, “There’s a possibility Roy’s role will be diminished if we’re trying to play faster and trying to play smaller.”

It’s unclear whether Hibbert has a solid relationship with Vogel, Bird or his teammates, but the front men of the Pacers’ front office have made their stance clear – if Roy stays, he may not be happy. The big question is whether Hibbert cares about the money, or playing more with a different team:

Two more big players who could leave the Pacers? Rodney Stuckey and David West.
Bird made sure to emphasize that he’s high on the former:

Stuckey was paid a little over $1.2 million after signing in free agency last year, but could be looking for a little more money from the Pacers this summer. He had a great year with Indiana, doing well to recover from injuries to carry the team through rough patches and winning stretches alike.

West has been with the Pacers since 2011 and may be prepared to sign another new deal to stay. He was on the books for a steady $12 million last year, and if he chooses to opt in he’ll make $12.6 million next year. Besides being a veteran leader on and off the floor, West has averaged 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 47.9 percent from the field over the last two seasons. To add to the importance, West’s backup, Luis Scola, is also a free agent, though Bird hopes he sticks around as well:

It’s important to note that even if West is back, he could be facing a similar fate as Hibbert in terms of minutes. Bird made a point to say that they’d like to trim West’s minutes while introducing the possibility of Paul George getting time at the 4-spot.

Speaking of George, he seemed to be the only player both Vogel and Bird were absolutely certain would be back – and rightly so.

“I have the ultimate confidence that he’s going to work his tail off this summer and come back better than ever,” said Vogel.

It’s not surprising to see that neither Bird nor Vogel were particularly keen on Hibbert, though Vogel did add a small statement of support at the end, mentioning that every player has to work at his craft and Hibbert’s no different. It’s also not surprising, of course, to hear both say they assume Hibbert and West will return. One thing that remains clear is that the return of Stuckey is a big priority for the Pacers, the return of Scola/West are still a priority, just less so, and guys like C.J. Watson and Hibbert maybe aren’t the apple of the Pacers president’s eye and could be wearing different colors come the end of October.

It’ll be an interesting offseason in Indiana as the only guarantee remains the reemergence of PG13, but Pacers fans would be unwise to assume both No. 55 and No. 21 won’t be back, and maybe Stuckey and Scola as well, no matter what the front office says.

Quotes from Pacers.com and IndyStar.com. 

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