Don’t expect the Pacers to lose any sleep if Roy Hibbert opts out

By George: Larry Bird and Frank Vogel don't seem to pine for No. 55 Roy Hibbert's skill set anymore. If he sticks around in Indy, he may ride the pine more than he's used to.

Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers only narrowly missed out on the playoffs after losing Wednesday in their final regular-season game — and this, despite Paul George missing all but six tilts while recovering from leg surgery. Nevertheless, team president Larry Bird, ever the competitor, and coach Frank Vogel seem determined to find other avenues toward improvement next season.

In exit interviews Friday, Bird professed a desire to play faster with more small ball, aligning with an NBA trend over the last few years — a trend that places less value on what plodding centers, like, say, Roy Hibbert bring to a basketball team.

Hibbert has a player option for $15.5 million next season, so he’ll have the first right of refusal as to whether or not he suits up for Indiana in 2015-16. Bird and Vogel have no control over this decision, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do what they can to convince Hibbert there’s greener grass on the other side to free the team of his substantial salary-cap allowance.

It’s not that Hibbert, in a vacuum, isn’t worth the money; the 28-year-old two-time All-Star remains an immensely talented defensive anchor with respectable offensive skill. But a strategy focused on a high pace of play and floor spacing can’t help but be somewhat hamstrung by a player of his ilk.

On the one hand, it’s hard for anyone to leave that much money on the table, and Hibbert might want it regardless of whether the Pacers are truly happy to have him back. Not to mention, if Hibbert opts in, he’ll be a free agent in 2016, when the salary cap is expected to balloon and allow for inflated salaries, providing an opportunity for a more lucrative long-term contract.

On the other hand, playing for a team that has little use for his ability could yield a down season and only fleeting interest from other teams in free agency.

All that said, it’s doubtful we’ll see Bird or Vogel shed a tear should Hibbert make his exit from Indiana.