One Goal Complete, Progress Made to Upgrade Bench

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by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 10, 2013

Pacers president Larry Bird headed into July free agency with two clear goals in mind: Re-sign David West, the backbone of the team for the last two seasons and upgrade the bench. Wednesday, the team checked one of those off by re-signing David West and made progress towards the other by signing free agent point guard C.J. Watson.

According to reports, on July 2, West agreed to terms with the Pacers for a three-year deal worth $36 million—just the second day of free agency. Re-signing with the Pacers was his intention all long.

“This was the situation that I wanted to be in so there really wasn’t much of a free agency from my perspective,” West said at the news conference.

“This really was a no-brainer for me. I talked to coach and guys, and everybody knew I was going to be back here. This is an ideal situation for myself at this stage of my career. There’s no other group I’d rather be a part of for the next few years than this group.”

In two seasons, West has been impactful in so many ways. On the court, he averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season, a year in which the Pacers fell at Miami in Game 7 of the conference finals. In the locker room, he’s extremely well-respected. Off the floor, he and his wife, Lesley, hosted the Pacers’ Thanksgiving meal and Lesley held a prom dress drive that distributed more than 500 dresses to high school girls in need.

“I told David over a year ago at the end of the season that he’s done more for this franchise than he can ever imagine,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird. “Come in here, establish 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 of the caliber of just being tough and honest and competing every night as you do in David.

“He was our No. 1 get this summer and we got him so we’re very happy.”

Signing Watson to a two-year deal was a big step in improving the bench. Watson said the Pacers made it clear to his agent on the first day of free agency that they were really interested in signing him. He spent last season in Brooklyn and averaged 6.8 points and two assists per game, but most will remember him for his two previous seasons with the Pacers’ division rival – Chicago.

While Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury in 2012, Watson stepped up and “they had an incredibly high winning percentage with him as a starter,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.

“What I like about C.J. is he’s done it as a backup for a few years in a row now, basically his whole career, where he’s come off the bench and understood that he’s only going to play 10-15 minutes or 15-20 minutes. But in those minutes, he’s got to impact the game. He’s got to make a difference while he’s out there and he’s done that at a very successful rate over the last few years and we feel strongly he’s going to do that here.”

Watson is a journeyman, going undrafted out of the University of Tennessee in 2006. He spent a year developing in Europe and then another year in the NBA’s Developmental League. In 2008, the Golden State Warriors signed him to a pair of 10-day contracts before he stuck with the team and played three seasons. Watson’s now been in the league six years and has no problem accepting the backup spot.

“I’ll do whatever the team wants me to do, whatever coach wants me to do,” he said.

Watson, who will wear No. 32, is simply a steady all-around player. He’s solid in the pick-and-roll game, on defense and his mistakes are minimal. He’ll also provide some relief in the 3-point shooting game, where the Pacers received very little from their bench. Last season, Watson shot better than 41 percent from outside and the drive to be even better is there, which in turn will open things up for everyone else.

“The need for our team was to really get up into people, guard, and hit wide-open shots,” Bird said. “And a guy that wants to play together, and move the ball. We think we’ve done that [with Watson].”

The Pacers are well over the salary cap and within a few million dollars of the luxury tax threshold ($71.748 million). Bird has made it clear that they will not pay a luxury tax because they can’t. That limits them on the free agent market but trades are still very possible. In the coming days, teams will begin to discuss further moves.

“You get through this first wave of free agency and then people will start calling about doing different things,” Bird added. “I can’t guarantee were going to do anything but we’re always looking.”

The Pacers got better on Wednesday by ensuring that the heart of the team hung around and by locking in George Hill’s backup. With Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson seated in the front row of the announcement, it was obvious that the players, as well as coach Vogel, were chomping at the bit to play again.

As for the goal next season? They’re already talking about that, too.

“From day one, we’re competing for the top seed in the East so if it comes down to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s on our home court,” said West.

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