NBA PM: West, Pacers Have Sense Of Urgency
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The 2013-14 NBA season kicks off tonight with a three-game slate that starts with the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are one of the few Eastern Conference teams going into the season with the confidence that they can beat the two-time defending champion Miami HEAT – or anyone else in the league for that matter.
However, after coming so close to accomplishing that feat last season, they understand that in order to surpass that they have to take every game, including tonight’s against Orlando, very seriously as homecourt advantage could end up being quite vital in the playoffs. It certainly was last year when the Pacers were forced to play a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals on the road in Miami, where they ultimately came up short.
“I think for us we understand the urgency at the very beginning,” Indiana Pacers forward David West said to HOOPSWORLD. “For the most part everyone is kind of counting us out again with Derrick Rose coming back, Brooklyn doing what they did, but we still have the confidence in ourselves and in this locker room that we’re going to compete at the very top of the Eastern Conference and that hasn’t wavered or changed. We feel like we strengthened our group with the additions and guys on the bench, feel like we can compete every single night with anybody in this league as long as we continue to commit ourselves to defense.
“We’re a together group. We’re a group that feels like we have a chance to win every game we step on the floor because of our commitment to playing defense, trusting each other on the defensive end. We’re just looking to get off to a good start in the regular season.”
West was an unrestricted free agent this past summer, free to sign with wherever he wanted. However, he was never close to leaving. He had no desire to play elsewhere, and the Pacers had even less desire to let him walk.
Ironically, had West gotten plucked away in free agency, veteran forward Luis Scola would have been about as good of a replacement as the Pacers could have found. Luckily for the Pacers, they ended up with both.
The Pacers were able to package up a future first round draft pick along with some of their younger players to acquire Scola from the rebuilding Phoenix Suns. Now, the Pacers have two of the league’s most reliable power forwards and a true captain to their second unit.
“He’s going to bring a lot of experience, he’s been tested,” West said of Scola. “He’s carried the load for a lot of years with other teams, we expect him to come in here and be productive, really anchor that second group. He’s going to win us some games some nights, he’s got that type of talent. Same thing with C.J. C.J. has been a solid backup his whole career. We’re just happy to have those guys on our side. We feel like they made us a stronger, smarter basketball team. Made us a little more veteran group as well.”
The additions of Scola and Watson should pay off large for the Pacers, who were already slated to improve by default with the further development of their younger players like George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Paul George and the return of Danny Granger. Granger missed all but five games last year due to a troublesome knee injury that he just couldn’t recover from in time to make a comeback and will be out the first three weeks of the regular season this year due to a strained calf, but West is confident he’ll be another difference maker as well.
“I think last year it was more of a question mark because we hadn’t been through the wars without him,” West said. “But having last year, played without him, we understand we have to hold the fort down and play the way we play with or without him. When Danny comes back healthy, I thought the first few preseason games he was pressing some, but again his timing and things will come. He’s going to be an impact guy for us.”
The Pacers are no longer overly dependent on Granger like they were two years ago because of the talent they’ve assembled around him and the emergence of George. George was an All-Star for the first time last season and really took over the leadership role in the playoffs, including an epic duel with LeBron James in the ECFs that undoubtedly helped give ownership and management the confidence they needed to award him a max contract extension this offseason.
The money hasn’t changed George’s approach or motivation at all, in fact it may have increased it.
“I feel like Paul has continued to grow,” West said. “Obviously in the regular season things change, but he understands the focus he has to have every single night. He puts that pressure on himself, which is enough to carry him emotionally and get him motivated. He understands for us to do well and really go beyond where we did last year, he has to get better. I feel like everybody has taken it upon themselves to improve and get better in some degree.”
We’ll start to see the fruits from their labor tonight as the wait is finally over for the Pacers. Their mission to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy starts now.
Old Habits Die Hard: On the surface, it looked like the Los Angeles Clippers had one of the simplest, yet successful summers. Their star player Chris Paul wanted Doc Rivers to be the team’s next head coach and after finding out that they couldn’t complete a package deal for Rivers and Kevin Garnett, they went out and just got Rivers. By doing so, Paul never even entertained offers from other teams. He committed to the Clippers prior to the start of free agency and re-signed a max five year contract the first day he was allowed to.
From there, the Clippers went on to cash in on Eric Bledsoe’s immense trade value by shipping him to Phoenix in exchange for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Bledsoe has the makings of a future star, but with Paul locked up to a new long-term deal the Clippers needed to ship out Bledsoe to fill their needs more pressing than having an elite backup point guard.
The praise for their moves overflowed. As the Los Angeles Lakers fell from prominence with the loss of Dwight Howard and the uncertainty of Kobe Bryant’s recovery from a torn Achilles, the Clippers ensured that they’ll be a serious contender for at least the next few years.
Many questioned whether the Clippers could ever get to that level with Donald Sterling as their owner. Sterling has a reputation for being cheap, yet has continually opened up his pocket book in recent years in ways some never expected. However, as Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski revealed earlier this morning, Sterling almost sabotaged everything by temporarily vetoing the previously completed Bledsoe deal. His reasoning was unknown, it could have been that he wasn’t ready to let go of Bledsoe or that he didn’t want to pay Redick nearly $30 million.
The deal was agreed to by all parties and reported in the media. The only thing keeping it from being official was that it occurred during the league’s moratorium period. So, technically Sterling could still block it, which according to Wojnarowski would have seriously damaged Rivers’ reputation as an executive and angered not only the other two teams involved, but all of the agents as well. The ripple effect could have been so big that Paul and Rivers may have left as a result, but it never came to that point as Rivers was able to change Sterling’s mind again, allowing cooler heads to prevail.
Still, there’s a little bit of residual damage from the temporary balking, and it also raises concerns about Sterling once again. Everything seems fine and dandy from the outside looking in, but facts are facts and Sterling remains the owner of the Clippers. If there was ever a time to get out of his own way, this would be it considering how greatly the franchise is positioned. But, he doesn’t appear to be willing to do so without a fight.