Hibbert situation puts Pacers in a pickle

Center is far from dominant but too good to let go to Blazers for nothing.

Roy Hibbert isn’t Wilt Chamberlain but Hibbert does stand 7-foot-2. He did average 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game with the Pacers this past season. He did block and alter shots, and he did make opponents think twice before driving to the basket.

Hibbert and the Pacers probably challenged the championship-winning Heat more than anyone else who faced the Heat in the playoffs. Hibbert was a big reason why, as the Heat really had no one to match his overall presence in the pivot.

Hibbert, 25, was also an All-Star. So it’s safe to say the Pacers can’t afford to lose him for nothing.

But that could be the case — as the Trail Blazers reportedly will offer Hibbert a four-year contract worth $58 million. Hibbert can’t officially sign the offer until July 11, when the free-agent moratorium ends. Because he’s a restricted free agent, the Pacers will have three days to match.

All of this is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, it really shows us what a center — a real center — is worth these days. Hibbert is far from dominant, but he is long, and he is good. He plays the game like centers did in the NBA’s early days. Or more accurately, like centers played in the early 1990s.

He positions himself on the low blocks, puts his back to the basket and calls for the ball. He rarely bothers to shoot outside of 10 feet. And with guys such as Danny Granger, Paul George and David West, the Pacers didn’t exactly play an inside-out game — but Hibbert at least gives them that option at times.

That makes him a valuable asset. Especially for a team like the Blazers, who probably wish they were offering this type of contract to former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden. Instead, Oden has been injury-prone and ineffective, is likely to get a much smaller offer somewhere else.

Then there’s the whole Nicolas Batum situation. He’s the Blazers’ starting small forward and is also a restricted free agent. Like Hibbert, Batum is considered one of the biggest prizes in this year’s free-agent class. Batum most definitely will receive an offer from another team, perhaps a sizeable one.

If the Blazers are able to keep Hibbert, it would be difficult for them to match a deal received by Batum.

But back to the Pacers.

The Hibbert situation creates quite a conundrum. If the Pacers match, they’re going to push themselves right up against the salary cap and limit flexibility for years to come. This for a team that’s coming off its best season in quite some time and is on its way up — but could still afford to add at least a piece, maybe two.

Then again, don’t match the Blazers’ offer, and the Pacers have taken a huge step back.

These are the challenges of free agency, new collective-bargaining agreement be darned. That’s particularly the case when you’re talking about a true center in these days of mostly marshmallows in the middle.

Basically, Hibbert’s overall game, his size and familiarity with coach Frank Vogel and his teammates makes him a man the Pacers need to keep. At any price, even the one the Blazers will force them to pay.

Hibbert is not Chamberlain, but in today’s market, he warrants more money than Chamberlain ever made.

That’s both good and bad, but the Pacers really can’t worry about it. They just need to keep a good thing going. In order for that to happen, they likely need to re-sign Hibbert, then hope everything else continues to fall into place.

After all, a good center is just too hard to find.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO