The Pacers' burning questions


Q: Did Hibbert's selfish comment have an impact inside the locker room?

A: Yes, and in a negative way. As one person with knowledge of the situation put it: "It divided the locker room big time." The Pacers didn't become one of the best teams in the league on talent alone. Their chemistry -- until about February -- was a strong bond that appeared unbreakable. But Hibbert, according to sources, defied a core belief of the team, which is to keep dirty laundry in-house.

For several games leading up to the "selfish" comment, Hibbert teetered in interviews with the media after losses. Several times he came to the brink of saying something and then bit his tongue. He was struggling and not getting the ball -- seven times in a month, he scored six points or fewer and his touches had dropped. The loss that night was the fourth time in five games the Pacers failed to break 80 points. Hibbert was in his hometown and had just struggled again in his old college arena and he'd finally had enough.

This "selfish dudes" comment, though, broke the trust of his teammates because he didn't come to them to address it first. Already upset with his play, Hibbert's teammates lost some trust in him after those comments, multiple sources said. "Teams that are tied together don't do those types of things," a source said.


Q: There are rumors that the team has been so up and down because of salacious off-court stuff. Is there any truth to that?

A: ESPN has spoken with numerous sources inside and outside of the Pacers organization, and the answer has consistently been that there is no evidence behind the innuendo about off-court interpersonal issues. It was clear the Pacers were dealing with chemistry issues, and their on-court cohesiveness showed a sharp decline after midseason. Some Internet sites and fans, looking for an explanation for this sudden change, searched for answers and some of the void was filled by lascivious rumors. Team and player sources insisted they were false, but they naturally spread as the Pacers continued to struggle.

George had to publicly acknowledge two incidents during the season. He copped to a relationship with a Miami nightclub worker, and debunked another alleged relationship that was splashed across a few blogs. He handled both with grace and accepted this was part of his more visible life as a star player. However, those close to him told ESPN that he was not prepared to handle the distractions, and the noise sent him into a bit of a depression for a short time during the season.

Rumors also had a negative impact on the psyches of other players, especially Hibbert. An active Twitter user, Hibbert became so upset about what fans were sending his way that he pushed to release a statement with a denial. After consulting with his agent, David Falk, and the team, the decision was reached not to do so, sources said.

The rumors, however, did not stop, and by the second round of the playoffs, the players had grown sick of it. They collectively decided to confront them through social media. George posted a photo on his Instagram account of a fishing trip on his boat with Hibbert and George Hill. He wrote the caption: "These rumors have got to stop! Its getting old now and all you that believe them are ignorant! #Brothers" on May 6.

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