NBA PM: West Taking Pacers to Next Level
The Indiana Pacers are currently the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and they have an excellent résumé at the quarter mark of the season. Indiana has impressive road wins against the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics among others, and they have yet to lose two games in a row. After five straight losing seasons, the Pacers have assembled a very talented team that is capable of making a deep playoff run if all goes as planned.
Who deserves the most credit for Indiana’s success? If you ask the players, they’ll say David West.
“David is the reason why we’re so high in the standings right now,” Darren Collison told HOOPSWORLD. “He means a lot to this team. He’s been good for us on the offensive end, defensive end and off the court. He has been really positive for our team in all aspects.”
The Pacers signed West to a two-year deal worth $20 million over the offseason, in an attempt to take the next step from up-and-coming team to legitimate contender. They felt that they were one piece away from competing in the Eastern Conference and jumped at the opportunity to sign West.
The 31-year-old power forward received interest from other teams, including the Boston Celtics, but he felt that Indiana was the best situation for him. With Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, West and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have plenty of weapons and are an extremely well-rounded team.
“It was just the best opportunity, that’s the bottom line,” West said. “It was the best opportunity to win. Collectively, this team is talented. It’s young, but it has a good mix of guys – there are guys that have some experience and guys that don’t have much experience but are super talented. Also, obviously, having a seven-foot-two guy that can score around the basket is a key in today’s game.”
“I think we have the right kind of guys here, unselfish guys who are ultimately trying to do the right thing on and off the court,” West added. “That’s the first part to being a successful basketball team.”
When asked if he can see himself finishing his career with the Pacers, West doesn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, I think so,” West said. “This was the best opportunity for me. It gave me the chance to have a good time playing this game again and not have to deal with some of the outside issues that we were dealing with in New Orleans.”
West has been on some very talented teams, including the 2007-08 Hornets squad that took the San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals. However, West believes that this team is even deeper, which is important during this condensed season.
“I think this is the deepest team that I’ve been on,” West said. “Looking at the amount of depth we have on the bench, we’ve got guys at every position that can come in and impact the game every night.”
While West is still getting acclimated in Indiana, the team has experienced early success. West is averaging 11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists, but his biggest contributions have come off the court. He is the second-oldest player on the team, behind Jeff Foster, and he has tried to mentor the young core and become a strong presence in the locker room.
West has instilled confidence in the group and they now believe they’re going to win every single game. As a result, the Pacers feel they are an elite team that will only continue to improve as they develop chemistry and gain experience.
“We’re just going to keep competing,” West said. “It’s still early in the season, but we had thirteen of our first nineteen games on the road and we got fourteen wins out of that. We feel good about that.”
The veteran power forward has made an immediate impact, but the Pacers hope his presence yields the best results come playoff time. At this point in West’s career, he’s focused on winning and feels that he has the pieces around him to do so in Indiana.
Many Teams Interested in Sessions: The Cleveland Cavaliers have been fielding plenty of calls for Ramon Sessions in recent weeks, according to sources close to the situation. The Los Angeles Lakers have inquired about Sessions’ availability recently, as Yahoo! Sports reported on Monday.
However, the Lakers aren’t the only team expressing interest in Sessions. Many teams have been calling to see what the Cavaliers plan to do with their back-up point guard. Sessions’ agent, Jared Karnes, will speak with Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant this week to discuss his client’s future.
Sessions has been playing well this season, averaging 9.1 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds in just 21.8 minutes. He has been a spark off of Cleveland’s bench and served as a mentor for rookie Kyrie Irving.
The Cavaliers won’t trade Sessions unless the right offer comes along. Cleveland isn’t ready to sell off pieces because they want to stay competitive and make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Multiple sources insist that no deal is imminent, but with the number of teams expressing interest in Sessions, he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as the March 15 trade deadline approaches.
Raptors Expected to Pursue Chandler: When Wilson Chandler returns from China in the next few weeks, he will be a restricted free agent. The Denver Nuggets can match any offer that Chandler receives, but that won’t stop the Toronto Raptors from pursuing the 24-year-old.
Toronto is expected to make a large offer to Chandler, according to multiple sources close to the situation. The Raptors will have to wait for the Chinese Basketball Association’s season to end before they can attempt to sign the small forward. Chandler’s team, Zhejiang Guangsha, is on pace to make the playoffs, which means he won’t be available until Zhejiang is eliminated from the postseason.
Denver has made it clear that they would like to re-sign Chandler, but Toronto will make things difficult for the Nuggets. After giving Danilo Gallinari a four-year extension worth $42 million, will Denver match a large offer sheet for Chandler? The Raptors want to find out.
Chandler has several other options as well. He may sit out for the remainder of the 2011-12 NBA season and wait until July to sign with a new team. Several contenders have also expressed interest in Chandler, hoping to sign him as a one-year rental that would allow him to compete for a championship and then test free agency again after the season. Not many teams have money to spend in March, which is why waiting until July to sign a long-term deal could be the best option for Chandler.
Bradley Making Most of Opportunity: Rajon Rondo’s injured wrist may keep him sidelined until the All-Star break, which means Avery Bradley will continue to start for the Boston Celtics. The 21-year-old is enjoying the increased playing time and trying to make the most of his opportunity. Through six starts, Bradley is averaging 5.8 points, 3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
“It’s been good, gaining that experience and confidence,” Bradley told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s going to help me for when Rondo comes back because I’ll know what Doc expects when I’m coming down the floor. You have to make the most of every opportunity you get, especially when you don’t play a lot. That’s what I’m doing and I’m just trying to learn and become a better player every day.”
Few players start their career surrounded by future Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars. Bradley is trying to learn as much as he can from players like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. He has a tremendous amount of respect for the veterans and is grateful to be on their team.
“It’s great,” Bradley said. “A lot of people don’t get the chance to be on a team like this, with players of this caliber. It’s a blessing and I try to learn from every single one of them, every single day. There are so many different things that I can learn from all of them. I really appreciate everything that they teach me.”
Even with their guidance, Bradley has to learn the game on his own. Adjusting to the NBA is never easy, especially for a point guard. This stint as a starter has been an excellent learning experience for Bradley.
“Being a point guard in the NBA is hard,” Bradley said. “You have to control the tempo of the game and know all of the plays, which is tough because everything happens so fast. Everyone is here for a reason and they’re all good at what they do. Even the people who don’t get in, they can play. I’m definitely improving and having all of these guys around me helps a lot. They take away a lot of the pressure.”
“But everybody has to improve,” Bradley added. “If you feel like you don’t need to improve anymore, then you should be done playing this game because you should always be trying to get better. That’s what I strive for – I want to be the best player that I can be. I’m going to continue to learn and stay in the gym to get better.”
In high school, Bradley was one of the top players in the nation. ESPN ranked him as the best player in the class of 2009, ahead of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors among others. He was also successful in college, emerging as a lottery talent despite playing only one year at Texas. While ankle surgery caused him to slip on draft night, he believes he’s still capable of being one of the top point guards in the league.
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and it’s not like in high school or college things were given to me,” Bradley said. “That’s something that I had to work for and prove. Now, I just have to continue to improve my game and hopefully my hard work will pay off.”
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats scheduled for today starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Anthony Macri at 11 a.m. ET. Coach Macri works with NBA players, developing and improving their games. Senior NBA writer Eric Pincus will hold down his weekly NBA chat at 4 p.m. ET. Eric covers the Western Conference from Los Angeles.