Posted Jun 7 2012 8:53PM - Updated Jun 7 2012 10:21PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Roy Hibbert wants to keep playing basketball in Indiana, and the Pacers intend to make their All-Star center happy.
It will just come down to dollars and sense.
"Of course this isn't going to be his last time in Indy, he's not going anywhere," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said with a smile shortly Thursday before playing in the Caroline Symmes celebrity softball game, which benefits the Indiana Children's Wish Fund.
Hibbert is one of six Indiana players who could become a free agent July 1, and at 7-foot-2, he could become one of the hottest commodities on the market.
But because he will only be a restricted free agent, the Pacers can match any other offer to keep him.
So how much will it take to keep the blossoming 25-year-old?
That's what the Pacers are trying to figure out.
Last week, Vogel and team president Larry Bird both indicated they would like the roster to return intact -- a combination that would require signing two key restricted free agents, Hibbert and guard George Hill.
The Pacers may have enough cap room to work it. Early projections indicate the Pacers will be about $21 million under next season's salary cap.
But Hibbert has not gone public with a price. On Thursday, he stopped short of saying he would give the Pacers a hometown discount.
"I want to make sure that everyone knows I love Indiana," he said. "But as the process goes and we try to get something done, that's something I'm leaving to my agent."
Hibbert has been a critical piece in Indiana's surprising turnaround.
As he improved steadily on the court, so did the Pacers.
Hibbert averaged 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, both career-highs, this season, was selected an All-Star for the first time, helped the Pacers win their first playoff series in seven years and even take a 2-1 lead over heavily favored Miami in the second round. Indiana lost the final three games to Miami, but the playoff run created the excitement Pacers fans have been craving for years.
If the Pacers are going to take the next step in 2012-13, reaching the Eastern Conference finals, they'll need Hibbert back.
"Hopefully, all of us stay together, but we know the Pacers have some tough decisions to make," said Hill, who grew up in Indianapolis and played college basketball at nearby IUPUI. "We just want to continue to play together and grow as a young nucleus."
Hibbert has support off the court, too.
The boisterous fans of Area 55, Hibbert's own cheering section at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, arrived early for the softball game and were just as loud behind home plate as they normally are for NBA games.
Hibbert has become a fixture in the Indy community. He and Colts defensive end Robert Mathis are co-hosts of the charity game at Victory Field, home of the minor league Indianapolis Indians. And Mathis has been lobbying Hibbert to stay put.
"He's in the NFL, so it's not tampering," Hibbert joked. "But he knows I love Indiana, too."
What the Pacers must decide is whether they can afford to keep him -- or if it would be too costly to lose Hibbert.
To Vogel, it's a no-brainer.
"I love our team so much, there's such a great positive chemistry and any time you see any of those guys, it just lights up," Vogel said. "We're going to get every single one of them (free agents) back. The Pacers are going to shoot for the moon."
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