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.