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West Returns to Ticking Clock, Great Opportunity

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

July 10, 2013, 5:10 PM

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It's a race against time now for David West. The goal is obvious, the opportunities are dwindling and the math is painfully simple.

His new three-year contract with the Pacers, a virtual certainty all along but officially confirmed on Wednesday, most likely represents his last in the NBA. He'll be 33 years old when training camp opens in the fall, so he doesn't need to be told of the dramatic climax that awaits his career. He has three years left to win a championship, with a team seemingly poised to contend for one and a ticking clock setting the tempo.

The starting lineup that reached the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals last season returns intact. The other four starters from last season – Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Lance Stephenson – are still green enough to be growing, and the front office has devoted the off-season to upgrading a reserve unit that was problematic throughout last season. So, it appears that the Pacers' oldest player will be chasing something much closer to his grasp than a fanciful dream.

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“I'm going to try to maximize these next three years and squeeze as much out of the orange as possible,” he said following the press conference in the lobby of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with team president Larry Bird and fellow free agent signee C. J. Watson.

“These next three years, we've got a window to win. We've got Paul. I'm excited about Danny getting back into the fold. We've got a 7-2 big (Hibbert) who can command double teams and get his around the basket. George, Lance and his development … so I'm very excited about being part of this group and leaving my imprint on these guys and this organization (before I) close the show.”

West already has left a major imprint on the Pacers in his two seasons with the franchise, so much so that it's easy to imagine a “win one for David” theme developing over the next three seasons, similar to the one that grew around Reggie Miller in his final seasons. The Pacers have had better players in their history, but none more respected than West, who was the inspiration for the “swagger” element of the franchise's marketing campaign last season.

Larry Bird has been around a few players in his seasons as a player, coach and executive, and doesn't pass out praise idly. That's why it was a bit surprising to hear him delve into an unprompted soliloquy on West's contributions over the past two seasons, only one of which Bird witnessed first-hand.

“I told David, over a year ago, at the end of the season, he's done more for this franchise than he can ever imagine,” Bird said. “Coming in here and establishing himself as a great player, not only on the court but in the locker room, and in the city doing special things. You don't find men or players … just being tough and honest and competing every night like David. You just don't see it very often in this league. There's special players who come through who are great players, but they don't give their heart and soul on the court or in the locker room to make other players better. We're very much appreciative of that.”

You hear that kind of talk all the time about West, which indicates his value to the franchise goes well beyond the 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds he averaged last season. Coach Frank Vogel, who attended the press conference (as did Hibbert and Stephenson), was confident all along that West would re-sign, but that didn't mute his relief he felt when it became official. West, Vogel said, is the locker room policeman. But he's a policeman who doesn't need to enforce proper behavior, because his mere presence prevents bad behavior.

“They understand there's a level of conduct that's expected and they carry that out,” Vogel said of West's teammates. “That's even better than putting somebody in line.”

West was noticeably slimmer on Wednesday, having shed 12 pounds from his playing weight. A boxing fan, he treats his body as a boxer would, eating more and gaining weight when preparing for the winter bouts and scaling back while resting and recovering in the off-season. He's spending the summer at his home in Raleigh, N.C., but has business in Indianapolis this week beyond signing his contract. He sponsors three AAU teams that are competing in the adidas Invitational playing out at local high school gymnasiums, all from his hometown of Garner, N.C. and surrounding areas. Those kids were to practice on the Fieldhouse practice court on Wednesday and get a tour of the Pacers' locker room afterward.

The name of his teams?

“We're Garner Road, man,” West said with a smile.

They made the 12-hour drive to Indianapolis in vans. West didn't drive one of them, having flown in the previous day, but he's the driving force and financier of the organization. The program's website, www.grbconline.com, declares that the team's slogan, “No Books, No Balls,” is a lifestyle rather than a motto. It's a fundamental approach that doesn't come as a surprise from a fundamentally-sound player who has the words “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) tattooed on the back of his calves, one on each.

West still has his own dreams to chase, though, which is why his might have been the simplest negotiation with a proven player in franchise history. Donnie Walsh, last season's team president, had asked him if he wanted a 12:01 a.m. phone call when the free agency period began on July 1. West said no. Five or six teams mailed packets of recruiting material, but West didn't pay much attention. Hill sent some texts urging him to stay on board, but West told him not to worry.

The actual negotiating process for the three-year deal, reported to be worth $36 million, took about a day.

“This thing was more or less a formality, getting the odds and ends worked out,” he said. “It was very simple, very easy.

“We were a quarter-and-a-half away from the NBA Finals. To take a step back (with another team for more money) just doesn't make sense. It just didn't make sense to roll the dice, especially with the chemistry that we have. At this point, let's just win. Just win big.”

Three years to go. Seize the day, indeed.

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