For more on basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010
INDIANAPOLIS – Just a few days ago, every NBA franchise was focused on the NBA Draft and building their team through young talent. However, even in the days leading up to the draft, Indiana Pacer General Manager Kevin Pritchard was acknowledging that today might be an even more important day than last Thursday.
Beginning today, NBA teams can begin signing free agents and both Pritchard and recently-returned president of basketball operations, Larry Bird (his first official day on the job is today), were clear what they wanted to get done quickly.
“We know what our number one priority is this off-season,” Pritchard said recently. “I think (former president, and now consultant Donnie Walsh) has talked about it quite a bit, and (today) we'll have a conversation and that is David West. We're going to be focused on that.”
West isn't the only player that the club needs to make a decision on, but he is the most significant.
After signing with Indiana two seasons ago, the 10th-year forward bounced back from injury in the 2011-12 season to raise his scoring average from 12.8 points per game to 17.1 and also increased his rebounds per game to 7.7 per game.
During the playoffs, West averaged the second most rebounds on the team (7.6 tied with guard Lance Stephenson) and played over 36 minutes per game (third most on the team).
“The priority is David West,” Bird reiterated at his introductory press conference on Thursday. “He has a good feel for what goes on here and what we're trying to do.”
On the court, signing West is a no-brainer for Indiana. His leadership and ability carries over to the locker room and he would be nearly impossible to replace if the club let him sign with another team. However, he did make $10 million last season and will expect a raise.
Pritchard spoke at length last week about how the new collective bargaining agreement evens the playing field in the free agent market for smaller-market franchises such as the Pacers. However, with Indiana will being responsible financially next season for center Roy Hibbert ($14,283,844) and forward Danny Granger ($14,021,788), as well as having rising stars Paul George and Lance Stephenson due for new deals at the end of next season, Bird will have to be very judicious about how he handles West's situation, as well as strengthening the team's bench.
“Somehow we have to upgrade (the bench),” Bird said. “And as I say that, we don't have a ton of money to spend, so we'll have to be very creative.”
Bird will also have to take into account that West turns 33 years old next month, so the Pacers will have to be smart about how many years they throw a large amount of money at West. How productive will West be at age 36 or 37? That's a dilemma for Bird.
However, the veteran executive is confident that the two sides want to get a deal done with each other, so as of now, he doesn't anticipate any extended problems with West.
“I don't think Dave will drag this out,” Bird said. “I think he wants to get this done and move on.”
Also having expiring contracts with the Pacers are reserve guards D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, while forwards Jeff Pendergraph and both Hansbroughs (forward Tyler and guard Ben) are each restricted free agents, which would allow Indiana to match any offers from other teams.
“There's a lot of things,” Bird said of his to-do list. “We've got coaching issues (assistants Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen have left for jobs with Denver and San Antonio, respectively) and we've got free agency.
“It's a challenge. This job is a challenge. A lot of long hours, but this is what I do for a living. It's what I've been doing for 30-some years. It's been my whole life, not just part of my life, but it's been my whole life. (Today) I'll start grinding and try to get some of these free agents back.”