Efficiently, Pacers Add Watson, McMillan

Some NBA teams hit free agency with smoke and lasers, going big and working on the egos of their targeted players in hopes of razzle-dazzling them to a heady decision.

Others demonstrate their artistry more like Grant Wood. Less fanfare, stoically efficient.

The Indiana Pacers are among the latter group, no muss, no fuss, rarely chewing their cabbage twice. Yet there they were on the first official day of free agency, addressing their areas of greatest need both on the court and on the side.

The Pacers’ top priority remains the same: re-signing power forward David West. He is the heart of that team, he is a throwback threat offensively whose simplicity in the post can be breathtaking and he is vital to Indiana’s ambitions this season of catching and passing the Miami Heat and any other Eastern Conference contenders.

West is one of the NBA’s true grown-ups, and the fact that he and agent Jeff Austin aren’t beating a bass drum of competing offers is just more evidence of the value he brings to that team. West and newly returned President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird nailed down a solid business deal for both sides two years ago – two years, $20 million in a bit of a show-us contract – and there is no reason to expect a different outcome (some different numbers, sure) this time around.

Meanwhile, Indiana reportedly reached an agreement with free-agent guard C.J. Watson to take over the backup point – and initials – role from D.J. Augustin. And former Seattle and Portland head coach Nate McMillan has been hired to slide into Brian Shaw‘s spot as the Pacers’ top assistant coach.

Swapping Watson in for Augustin, a move first reported by Hoopsworld.com’s Alex Kennedy, should be a low-cost upgrade, played out at equally low decibels. Watson, who spent 2012-13 in Brooklyn after two seasons in Chicago, plays with more emotion or expression than Augustin, but that’s fine for Indiana coach Frank Vogel if he sees more proficiency.

When the Pacers turned to Augustin in the wake of Darren Collison‘s trade departure last July, they welcomed having someone who wouldn’t be fighting the backup role that Collison disliked. Trouble was, Augustin wasn’t assertive enough – and he never seemed to find any rhythm off the bench. His shooting and floor direction dipped, contributing to the Pacers’ already shaky bench.

Watson arrives as a slightly feistier player, capable of playing both spots in the backcourt for variations alongside George Hill, and with a longer resume as a 3-point shooter (41.1 percent for the Nets last season). He reportedly would be signed for two years with the bi-annual salary cap exception (about $2 million yearly), with deals only official after July 10 when the moratorium period ends.

Indiana also has made a qualifying offer of about $4.1 million to backup forward Tyler Hansbrough, who didn’t progress as hoped. That too hurt the second unit, which on too many nights was like having retread tires on a $75,000 sports car. As longtime Pacers writer Conrad Brunner wrote on his EPSN 1070 blog:

While the Pacers can hope for a complete return by Danny Granger, who would either give the bench a much-needed scorer or push [Lance] Stephenson into the role, that alone would not solve the problem.

The Pacers’ bench ranked 29th in scoring (24.1), 30th in shooting (.393) and 26th in 3-point shooting (.329) in 2012-13.

“The moves will be to strengthen the bench,” said team President Larry Bird. “Our starters are pretty well set, especially if we can get Danny back. There’s still some uncertainty there. If he comes back, automatically our bench gets better. We’ve just got to get the other guys to play better or bring in some guys we think’s going to help us.

“For us to talk about beating the great teams in this league, you’ve got to have a stronger bench. Our bench didn’t produce last year the way we needed them to produce and we definitely have got to fix that one area.”

Finding another shooter in free agency, such as J.J. Redick, Chase Budinger or Marco Belinelli, could open up things for West, center Roy Hibbert and slashing Paul George too.

In the meantime, Indiana got some help on the bench with McMillan’s addition. In 12 seasons prior to sitting out 2012-13, the former SuperSonics guard posted a 478-452 record with five playoff appearances. Shaw was hired as Denver’s head coach and another Pacers assistant, Jim Boylen, recently joined San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s staff.


  1. DIII says:

    As a long time Pacers fan…we have always lost to a Jordan & Pippen duel team setup….Now, itz our turn to have this kind of team chemistry…I look forward to seeing Granger & Paul duel for the next five yrs develop into 3 titles, and current game changing players retiring because Pacers gave them no chance of thinking they had a chance to regain the title…West is earning Karl Malone type $$$; therefore, Granger’s presents should propels his numbers towards Karl Malone’s type stats… with Granger back I see 3 G’s in the game for a Big Man Lineup: Green, George, & Granger…..Den there iz a SmaLL Man Lineup: HiLL, Watson, & Lance…ohhhh, I can’t wait. I know other teams are gonna be better squads; however, the Pacers are a great defensive team, who is capable of shutting down the best squads. Nate McMiLLan wiLL imprint his mark N this field of coaching…It took years for God to put this Pacers team together for itz 1st N.B.A. Title…CHUUUCH!!!

    Im Da ReaL DIII

  2. J-Short37 says:

    Good pickup for the Pacers with Watson, I do think like some of the pacer fans mentioned that if Granger was willing to come off of the bench but his salary and personality may not allow that to happen. Most owners if they are paying the star player money to Granger they want him getting big minutes. Its like more return on your investment in this case. I would say trade Granger for a scorer like Kevin Martin who would be cheaper and would be use to coming from the bench.

  3. Shawn K says:

    While Granger is considered a star, I think he needs to take a 6th man role so the Pacers can have depth. Last season, the biggest problem with the Pacers were their depth and lack of scoring off the bench(as stated above). So if Granger takes a bench role, even if he still gets 25-30 minutes a game, it’ll spread out the scoring and make the Pacers a more consistent scoring threat all around. Hopefully, Granger will be ok with this role if the Pacers decide to go with that.

    • I agree. If Granger comes back healthy, he needs to go to the bench. He can play 15-25 minutes a game and give us 10-15 points a game and instantly help our bench and their scoring woes. Problem is hes already stated that he doesnt wanna come off of the bench. Me being a Pacers fan, I watch almost every game, every year. Granger can also be a whiner and complainer. Ive seen him call for the ball and when he didnt get it, he pouted and didnt play defense to the ability he can. If he gets frustrated, hes the type to take plays off. Which in turn puts our defense in bad situations and allows easy buckets. Granger wants to be the vocal point on offense, but with Paul emerging as way better all around player, I see it frustrating Granger. In turn I see him not being a team player and being the pouter more so than ever this year. Our best bet is to trade him for some1 that can score, but whos also more of a team player and wouldnt mind coming off of the bench for us Granger is a players player. Hes more about the individual satisfaction. Hes not a team player. He knows him coming off of the bench would help our team out more so than him being a starter. Hell every1 knows that, but hes already stated he will be upset if he doesnt start. Thats selfish, our best bet would be to trade him. Even tho if he got over hmself, and accepted the 6th man role that would be best for all sides. He is our longest tenured player, hes been here during those few bad years from 05-10, and he can score buckets but I see him being traded.

  4. Michael Peloton says:

    Indiana is a pretty good team. The team gave the heat a hard time in the eastern finals. Paul George just needs experience to become a legitimate all star player. The heart of a great player will be tested in the crucible of fire – nba playoffs. George needs to listen and learn from the great Larry Bird and emulate the man who embraced the moment during clutch situations.

  5. Sew says:

    Good sign. Watson is definitely an upgrade and better fit for the Pacers. He could even rotate and play the 2-guard position.

  6. c'mon now says:

    all the pacers need to do is resign david west. they have a a great young team and a future superstar in paul george. they also have roy hibbert who came up big in the playoffs and a developing lance stephenson. they have a playoff contending in my opinion