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INDIANAPOLIS — For David West, free agency was short, to the point and highly satisfying.
The cornerstone of Indiana’s playoff success the past two seasons, the veteran power forward made it known early and often that his desire was to stay with the Indiana Pacers.
Brushing aside overtures from other teams, West — briefly an unrestricted free agent — signed a three-year extension worth a reported $36 million. The Pacers, without disclosing terms, made the announcement during a Wednesday news conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where journeyman point guard C.J. Watson also was introduced after signing a free-agent deal.
Reiterating his earlier declaration after Indiana’s Game 7 loss at Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, West insisted he had no interest in playing the market.
He only wanted to play for the Pacers.
“This really was a no-brainer for me. I talked to coach (Frank Vogel) and the guys, and everyone knew I was going to come back here,” said West, who re-signed two days after the start of free agency. “This is an ideal situation for myself at this stage of my career.
“Really, there’s no other group I’d rather be a part of for the next few years than this group.”
For his part, team president Larry Bird had no bigger offseason priority than to re-sign a West, a 10-year veteran who signed his first free-agent deal with the Pacers on Dec. 11, 2011, during the lockout year.
An instant hit with coaches, teammates and fans, West quickly became the Pacers’ locker-room leader as well as their most consistent player.
West averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last season and has averaged 15.1 points and 7.2 during his two seasons in Indy.
Perhaps more importantly, the rugged veteran sets a tough-minded tone that has become the young team’s hallmark.
“I told David over a year ago at the end of the season that he’s done more for this franchise than he can ever imagine,” Bird said. “He came in here and established himself as a great player, not only on the court but in the locker room, in the city; (he) did special things. You don’t find men or players with the caliber of just being tough and honest and competing every night as you do in David.
“David’s so valuable for this franchise. You don’t see it very often in this league.”
Which is why Bird had no intention of seeing West play anywhere else.
“There are special players come through that are great players, but they don’t give their heart and soul off the court or in the locker room to make other players better,” Bird said. “He’s our No. 1 get this summer, and we got him, and we’re very happy.”
So is West, who gave little to no thought about playing anywhere else.
“There were a couple of teams, I guess for show, that kind of came around,” West said. “I just made it clear that this was a situation that I wanted to be in, so there really wasn’t much free agency from my perspective.”
Having accomplished his No. 1 offseason objective of retaining West, Bird is now focused on objective No. 2: Strengthening the bench.
He is confident the Pacers have made meaningful strides toward that goal with the recent selection of rookie Solomon Hill in the NBA Draft and the free-agent addition of Watson.
Hill, a versatile small forward from Arizona, made an impressive showing at the Summer League in Orlando — so much so that he is expected to contribute immediately.
“He can fit right in. He can play right now,” Bird said. “He’ll help our bench. He makes plays. He plays under control, he hits open shots, he’s a great fit. He’s a worker.
“He doesn’t say much but comes to work and comes to play, and he can get some minutes right now. We’re very impressed with him.”
Watson, a six-year NBA veteran who played last season with the Brooklyn Nets, also is expected to give the bench an immediate boost. Undrafted out of Tennessee, he also has played for Golden State and Chicago.
Watson averaged 7.6 points and 2.5 assists per game last season in 80 games at Brooklyn, where he backed up All-Star Deron Williams.
“It’s a great team here. It’s a young team. It got better each and every year,” Watson said. “I thought this team had a bright future. They’re right there in the hunt for winning that championship.
“I see myself playing a lot here and playing well.”
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