Pacers Solve Biggest Needs in West, Watson
The Indiana Pacers had three objectives for free agency this summer: re-sign David West, find a backup point guard, and add a little depth for the frontcourt. As of midday Tuesday, two of those boxes had already been checked, with C.J. Watson verbally agreeing to a two-year deal on Monday, and David West verbally agreeing to a three-year, $36 million deal on Tuesday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
West is obviously the biggest get for the Pacers, who made the Eastern Conference Finals last season for the first time since 2004, because his toughness and veteran leadership are often referred to as huge reasons Indiana made such huge leaps as a franchise the last couple of seasons. The team made it known that West was their top priority in free agency, and that they’d do whatever was necessary to keep him in Central Indiana for a few more seasons. Looks like they got the job done.
Two years ago, when West was last an unrestricted free agent, he was coming off a serious knee surgery that drove his value down quite a bit. The result was a two-year, $20 million contract offer from the Pacers, which ended up being one of the best values in the NBA the last couple of seasons.
The raise to $12 million a year is well-deserved, though by the end of the third year of the new deal he’ll be almost 36 years old. This was his last opportunity to get a big payday, and the Pacers were more than happy to provide him with one. He has been pretty durable since returning from his injury, playing in 169 of 194 total Pacers games the last two season (including the postseason), and of course no matter how many games he plays in, his presence in the Pacers locker room has been invaluable. Roy Hibbert, for example, credits much of his own growth to West’s tutelage.
Watson, meanwhile, is quite an upgrade over D.J. Augustin, the main backup to George Hill last season. He’s a better scorer and defender than Augustin, and he’s got more size, as well, though he saw his numbers drop a bit with Brooklyn last season. In his final year with Chicago, however, Watson scored 9.7 ppg and dished out 4.1 apg—both of which are much better than Augustin’s 4.7 ppg and 2.1 apg last season in Indiana.
Once both signings become official after the moratorium in about a week, the Pacers will have 12 players under contract (we’re assuming that guaranteeing Lance Stephenson’s $930,000 contract next season is a formality), with restricted free agent Tyler Hansbrough possibly making it 13.
Next up, Indiana should dig for that frontcourt depth, but don’t expect it to be a big-name player. Indiana’s salary commitments will be up over $70 million next year before even doing anything with Hansbrough. They may re-sign Hansbrough and then find themselves another inexpensive big, but the agreements with West and Watson more or less signal the end of anything major the Pacers may do.
The moves thus far have been pretty solid, meaning there’s no reason to expect a drop-off from Indiana next year. Assuming the young players get better, they should be even more dangerous.