The Portland Trail Blazers offered Indiana Pacers restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert a maximum contract after meeting with him in Washington, D.C., early Sunday, SI.com has learned.
A source with knowledge of the meeting said Indiana did not offer a max deal at the outset of the free-agent negotiating period and, unless that changes, Hibbert is leaning toward signing the Trail Blazers' four-year, $58 million offer sheet. Hibbert cannot do so until July 11, when the free-agent moratorium ends, after which the Pacers would have three days to match the offer and retain the 25-year-old All-Star.
In addition, the source said one other team, which was not named, also offered Hibbert a max deal after the start of free agency on Sunday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
[2012 NBA Free Agent Tracker]
New Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and team president Larry Miller were among those who met at the office of Hibbert's agent, David Falk, the source said. Reports surfaced that the Blazers had also visited Chicago Bulls restricted free agent center Omer Asik, but the details of that pursuit and which Blazers officials may have been sent are unclear.
The attempt to sign Hibbert is a bold move for a Portland organization that is still reeling from the Greg Oden experience, those nightmarish five years in which the No. 1 pick of the 2007 draft played only 82 games because of seemingly endless knee injuries and surgeries. Recently named Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was the GM in Portland when the Blazers drafted the center from Ohio State.
The aggressive push to land one of the game's best young big men is a clear sign that Olshey is in win-now mode. The Blazers are looking to rebound from a 28-38 season and the 7-foot-2 Hibbert is seen as a strong partner for power forward and fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Many had assumed that the Blazers would use the sixth pick in Thursday's draft to select a tantalizing wild card, 18-year-old UConn center Andre Drummond, but clearly they were seeking a big man like Hibbert who could help immediately. (Drummond went ninth to the Detroit Pistons, while Portland took Weber State point guard Damian Lillard at No. 6 and Illinois center Meyers Leonard at No. 11.)
Hibbert, the 17th pick in 2008, has improved his game and his body immensely in his short career. After discovering a previously undiagnosed asthma condition that had hampered him during his first two seasons, Hibbert lost 23 pounds and 6 percent body fat for the 2010-11 season. Once the medical situation was resolved and Hibbert dedicated himself to training that included mixed martial arts, he evolved into a productive starter and defensive difference maker. He averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 29.8 minutes last season while being named to his first All-Star team.
[Zach Lowe: Hibbert the top young free-agent center]
If the Pacers don't match and Hibbert joins Portland, it could mean the end of small forward Nicolas Batum's time with the Blazers. The agent for the restricted free agent, Bouna Ndiaye, has had contentious negotiations with the team dating to last summer and the lead-up to this free agency period gave no indications that it would be different -- even with the addition of former Clippers GM Olshey in early June.
Despite Portland's clear stance that re-signing Batum is a major priority, a recent comment by Ndiaye couldn't have helped. After Olshey compared Aldridge and Batum to the Clippers' Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as far as being "bedrock" players for their respective franchises, Ndiaye told The Oregonian, "I like that. Give me Chris Paul money and we will not be fighting too long. Just close your eyes and choose between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and I'll be fine with that. Give me one of those contracts and you'll have a deal."
Instead, the Blazers offered one to Hibbert as free agency opened.