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The 5-8 Pacers and the Roy Hibbert Conundrum

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What does this "Season of Injuries" mean for Roy Hibbert and the Pacers going forward?

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Remember the movie Armaggedon? When Harry Stamper and his crew of oil-drilling cronies are tasked by the U.S. Government to travel thousands of miles into space, and not only posit but detonate a nuclear bomb at the core of a Death-Star sized asteroid to prevent it from obliterating all of planet Earth?

Along the way, they encounter implausible scenario after implausible scenario, like when a Russian space station explodes minutes after Harry and Co. arrive for a fuel stop. Or when the crew gets split up trying to surface the asteroid. Or when they learn their drilling equipment isn't strong enough to breach the asteroid's core. Or when Michael Bay's cliche, foul-mouthed buffoon starts spraying bullets into space as though he's playing a Call of Duty/Halo mashup. And all you can do during each bizarre scene is switch off the brain, chuckle, and chomp on the much-too-buttery tub of popcorn in your lap. 

It's a terrible movie as far as plot and execution goes, but it also makes for a great analogy because while we're not yet at Defcon: End of Days with this year's Pacers' squad, we've definitely reached sit-back-and-chuckle-and-chomp status; especially in regard to injuries.

Speaking of injuries, I'm sure you've heard by now Roy Hibbert sprained his left ankle Saturday night against the Suns. Rodney Stuckey injured himself again, too, leaving the Pacers with nine healthy players and three questionable heading into their Monday matchup against the Dallas Mavericks

Roy's injury is the more unnerving of the two and not just because he's the more indispensable player. In case you've forgotten, Roy has a player option which he can choose to accept or decline at season's end, and if he chooses the latter, he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July of 2015. 

Smart money says Roy will opt-in for 2015-2016 in preparation for the monopoly money coming out the NBA's new TV deal. But with every fallen teammate; every loss; every new nick and sprain, it's not so far-fetched to think the soon-to-be 28-year-old will be mulling his long-term options with a little more urgency. 

If the potential for additional injury or financial security isn't tempting enough for Roy to enter free-agency next summer, then how about the Pacers' uncertain future? Yes, Paul George is expected to make a full recovery from his broken leg, but just how long will it take him to rediscover his top-10 player form? Worst-case scenario: will he ever? There's also the issue of David West: will he exercise his own ETO at the end of the season? Will he retire? Will he be traded, so he can play for a contender in the twilight of his career? Then there are the outright free agents: Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Rodney Stuckey, Donald Sloan, and Lavoy Allen; their expiring contracts further clouding the team's long-term outlook.

Roy's recent comments to Ian Thomsen make this all a bit more pressing as the two broached the subject of starting anew:

He takes no solace from the moral victories that his less-established teammates are earning.

"It's good for them, but I'm seven years [into his NBA career] and I've got to win now,'' Hibbert said. "I can't be going through a rebuild process.''

Combine all of these elements together and you start to realize just how easily Roy could abandon ship after the season. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't been discussed more frequently in Pacer circles. ESPN tagged Hibbert as one of its best potential free agents of 2015, but it went mostly unnoticed. To be fair, that's partly Roy's doing. After all, he's coming off possibly his worst season as a starter, and the thought of him playing well enough to pass on one more year of max money seemed unlikely, maybe even humorous to some.

Fast forward to late November: Roy's off to a stellar start and flourishing in his new it's-all-on-you role. But even with Roy playing well, there's a contingent of Pacer fans who are eager to see him go. After years of fluctuating box scores, a vulnerable psyche, and anemic offense, who can blame them?

While the sentiment may be justifiable, it may carry with it some unintended consequences. Like what happens to Paul George's psyche if his best friend and playoff compadre hightails it out of town? Or what happens to Frank Vogel and the established Pacers' culture without a dominant defensive anchor in the middle?

Which brings me back to my original point. We all thought the championship window closed when Lance Stephenson left and Paul George's leg snapped in half. And it's probably true. But when you watch Indy win games led by Roy Hibbert and a D-League-esque supporting cast, the more you understand how much the team's culture and success is rooted in his abilities, limited as they may seem. 

Maybe ... just maybe we'll find the real Blue-and-Gold Armageddon didn't start the summer of 2014. Maybe it actually starts the moment #55 walks (or stumbles) out of those Bankers' Life Fieldhouse doors.