INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Pacers wanted David West to stick around and lead a championship run. The 32-year-old power forward never planned on leaving town.
West agreed to a three-year contract with Indiana on the second day of free agency, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The person requested anonymity because NBA rules prohibit teams from announcing signings until July 10. The deal is reportedly worth $36 million.
For the Pacers, Tuesday's announcement may turn out to be their biggest move of the entire off-season.
"Obviously, our No. 1 priority is to get David West signed," president of basketball operations Larry Bird said Monday, reiterating the point his predecessor Donnie Walsh and general manager Kevin Pritchard made two weeks earlier at an end-of-the-season news conference.
The reason was obvious. On the court, West provided a physical inside presence that allowed the Pacers to play in-your-face defence, though he was far more than just an enforcer.
During the regular season he started 73 games, averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. In the playoffs, the numbers were virtually identical — 15.9 points and 7.6 rebounds — but it was in the locker room where West was a stabilizing force for one of the youngest teams in the league.
Coaches and teammates repeatedly credited his demeanour, work ethic, playoff experience and role as a veteran leader for helping the Pacers become a better team.
By reaching the agreement the Central Division champions are now assured of returning all five starters from last season, three of whom have played in the All-Star Game — West, swingman Paul George and centre Roy Hibbert. Danny Granger, another former All-Star, also is expected to return after missing all but five games last season because of a left knee injury.
Those inside the organization were confident they could keep him, and West never deviated from the line that he wanted to stay. He played college basketball at nearby Xavier, enjoys the Indianapolis community and prefers being close to his wife's family in Cincinnati. He also thought Indiana would provide the best chance for him to win that elusive NBA title.
"This is my group. These are my guys," West said after losing Game 7 against the Miami Heat in the playoffs. "You know, I can't see myself going anywhere else. We're the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, one of the top four teams in the league, in my estimation, based on this year. This group is a solid group. It gives me as an individual the best chance to accomplish the goals that I have left in terms of my future, and that's competing at this stage of the game every single year from here on out."
Teammates wasted no time expressing their jubilation at the turn of events.
"Happy, happy, happy," Hibbert wrote on Twitter after word first leaked of the deal.
What's next? Revamping the Pacers' bench.
When Bird left the team to tend to health issues last year, Pritchard and Walsh spent the off-season trying to improve the bench. Now Bird is starting over.
The Pacers reportedly have agreed to a two-year deal with backup point guard C.J. Watson and have rescinded the qualifying offer of roughly $4.15 million to backup forward and former first-round draft pick Tyler Hansbrough. That was a move met with sadness by what are likely to be Hansbrough's soon-to-be ex-teammates.
"Hope Tyler finds a great home next year. Sad 2see him go," Hibbert wrote. "Business is business I guess. But who wants to come to Indy n be dwest's back up?"
It's a good question, given the circumstances.
Indiana has gone from a non-playoff team in 2010 to a loss in the first round of the 2011 post-season to a second-round ouster against Miami in 2012 to pushing the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals this past season.
The Pacers knew they couldn't take that next step without West — and now they won't have to.
"David West is the heart and soul of our team," coach Frank Vogel said Monday. "Having the professionalism that he does, the work ethic that he does, caring about his teammates like he does, it's hard not to glow about him."