Pacers strengthen roster, add West

The Indiana Pacers' patience during the first part of the free-agency period has paid off.

David West, the Pacers' likely starting power forward, agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal Sunday afternoon.

"David looks at the Pacers as a good young team with a lot of potential," said West's agent, Lance Young. "He feels his experience and leadership will help a team like the Pacers. He was excited Jeff Foster re-signed with them. He feels like Indiana is the best spot for him and his family."

Pacers officials won't comment until West passes a physical, which is expected to take place today.

The Pacers nabbed West after the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Hornets could not agree to a sign-and-trade deal.

West agreed to the deal with the Pacers shortly after talks broke down between the Celtics and Hornets.

"He gives us a guy who is very talented on the offensive end," said Pacers point guard Darren Collison, West's teammate in New Orleans two years ago. "He knows how to space the court and he also makes sure the offense runs smoothly. Defensively, he makes sure everybody is where they're supposed to be."

The Pacers might not be done making moves. They've resumed talks with the Memphis Grizzlies about guard O.J. Mayo for the second time in less than a year.

The teams have discussed a potential sign-and-trade deal that would send free agent Josh McRoberts and Brandon Rush to Memphis for Mayo, whom Pacers President Larry Bird has liked for several years.

The Pacers and Grizzlies failed to pull off a deal in February because the paperwork was not submitted to the league office in time.

The Pacers made no secret at the end of last season that they planned to search for a starting power forward. Team officials still are high on Tyler Hansbrough but believe he's best suited as an energy player off the bench.

"Having David and Tyler team together will be a great combination for us at power forward," Collison said. "Tyler has played well in camp and adding David is only going to help."

The Pacers made Nene their top free agent target. Bird, general manager David Morway, coach Frank Vogel and assistant coach Brian Shaw flew to Denver to meet with Nene last week.

It didn't take long for Bird and Co. to realize Nene wanted more money than they were willing to pay. The New Jersey Nets reportedly plan to offer Nene a contract starting at about $15 million a year.

Age and health questions surrounded West.

The 31-year-old West tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in March and Pacers officials didn't want to sign him to a long-term deal and risk a setback in his recovery.

West treated his rehabilitation like a 9-to-5 job, working out vigorously, according to Young.

Getting West in a two-year deal is a bargain for the Pacers. The former All-Star averaged 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in 70 games with the Hornets last season.

He thrives in the pick-and-roll game and also can score on the perimeter and in the post.

"He's a veteran player who is very strong in the pick-and-pop game and he's been an All-Star," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "I'm really happy that we got him. He's definitely going to help us."

This move makes a lot of sense for Pacers

It was a couple of hours before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, and Pacers President Larry Bird was sitting courtside at the United Center, laying out his vision for the team he hoped to build.

"We're never going to be able to get that huge free agent who everybody wants," he said, or at least words to that effect. (It was many months ago, so I'm reciting from memory.) "So what I want to do is build depth. I want a team that's going to wear people down."

Mission accomplished.

The Pacers, who are not close to being done with their offseason reconstruction, added a huge piece and a perfect fit Sunday, signing free agent power forward David West to a two-year, $20 million contract.

It is a deal that works for the Pacers on two levels:

It gives them a starting power forward who has been a regular 19-point, eight-rebound guy in the NBA for many years, a two-time All-Star and a player generally acknowledged as a true professional. All the reports say West is fully recovered from knee surgery and will join practice immediately.

It works because the Pacers didn't overpay or over-commit and were able to maintain salary cap flexibility moving forward. The Pacers were leery about giving the 31-year-old West a long-term contract, worrying he would be on the downside of his career at the same time the younger Pacers were just hitting their primes. This deal gives Indy the player it needs now and the financial freedom it needs later.

Give Bird and general manager David Morway credit for their continued patience during this sometimes tortuous rebuild: While others were signing/overpaying for free agents and making trades -- and having trades vetoed -- they sat back, circled, and waited for something that made fiscal sense.

They got point guard Darren Collison for a song. They grabbed guard George Hill for a middling first-rounder in a bad draft. Now they're adding West for the right price. (Don't be surprised when swingman O.J. Mayo shows up soon.)

They could have made big headlines by signing Nene, but he wasn't worth the mammoth numbers the New Jersey Nets reportedly were offering.

It made no sense to commit to West -- a 31-year-old player coming off knee surgery -- for four years, as the Celtics were prepared to do if they could have pulled off a sign-and-trade deal with New Orleans.

It was a risk to sit back and wait. It was a competitive risk and an even bigger public-relations risk.

In the end, though, they got one of the big three free agents at the power forward spot, the others being Tyson Chandler and Nene. And they got him at the right number.

What they're building now is a deep, young, interesting team that should battle for the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and maybe even better. West doesn't give them everything they needed; he's not a huge rebounder or shot-blocker, but he's a solid, consistent, smart pro who can post up, play the pick-and-pop game and give the Pacers points at a spot where they desperately needed to improve.

West also adds a locker-room presence the Pacers needed. This young team has long lacked any real in-house leadership. But now you add West and George Hill, two grown-ups, and it changes the dynamics of the group.

Before the West signing, I asked Tyler Hansbrough how he felt about the Pacers' continuing efforts to add a power forward, and he didn't flinch.

"I'm fine with it," he said. "If they bring somebody in, I'm going to compete with him. Anything we do that makes us a better team is great. It's about winning."

Can you imagine Hansbrough now leading the charge off the bench, giving the Pacers 20 to 25 minutes of raging-bull basketball? The Pacers' second unit, which may be strengthened even further if they can make that trade for Mayo, will give them one of the strongest benches in the league.

This is not a championship team, obviously, but then, how many championship-quality teams are out there? Nobody expects them to compete with the Miami Heat, but this group has every reason to believe it can win at least 35 games in a 66-game season, and can make some noise in the playoffs.