For the Pacers, the rigors and painful eye rolling of the NBA lockout were quickly forgotten when the frenzied free agency period allowed the team one of the best free agents in the NBA: David West. Of course, it goes with saying that the move was great in theory, a short, cheap deal on a two-time All-Star, a veteran's veteran, a guiding light for the youth and goodwill of the young Indiana Pacers, but West was still coming off an ACL injury at the end of March.
Maybe that's where the Pacers actually benefited from the lockout. For West to be a good signing, it couldn't be a "cheap contract on a good player," he had to perform. Effectively getting an extra 8-10 weeks to rehab and work back from the ACL may have the ultimate deciding factor for wise spending Larry Bird and his quest for a veteran power forward, and the tipping point for West to return to the court without the risk of further injury.
In addition, the move was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. In David Stern's "new NBA," the desire for small market teams to gain equal footing with major NBA destinations was put to the test immediately when West chose a young, 37-45 Indiana Pacers team over an aging Boston Celtics team one year removed from the NBA Finals. West's decision to take his talents to the Circle City even flabbergasted players, with Ray Allen suggesting the decision was based on money, not winning.
While West isn't quite the level of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and other players who jettisoned (or expressed their own desire to leave) small market play for brighter lights, he is still an All-Star caliber player who had major market options, but ultimately rode on Indiana's youth and upside over a Boston team who had already seen their best days. For both parties, West and the Pacers had to believe they found the perfect match.
West's early season play proved a bit of a mixed bag as he worked back into game shape, but his presence was undeniable on the team. Despite some on and off games, West proved one of the team's most consistent players, giving them some much needed fire a young, generally inexperienced squad like Indiana wasn't going to gain on their own. His play surprised many Pacers fans as West proved to be a tougher player than he had been given credit for while in New Orleans, giving Indiana something of a Dale Davis post presence they'd missed since...well...Dale Davis.
Nationally, West was seen as having something of a disappointing season. After all, the numbers showed he wasn't the 20-point guy he was with the Hornets, but as Pacers fans followed West in New Orleans, so too did national speakers follow West in Indiana. Despite working himself back into form, he still provided considerable stability, as his game slowly came around over the course of the 66-game schedule he played all 66 in.
The beauty of West's addition was that he knew when the team needed him to lead on the floor, playing big and physical with a potent inside game and a dangerous 18-foot jumper he developed as one of his most famous shots. He came up big in clutch moments time and time again, creating extra possessions for his teammates and hitting the big shot to turn former losses into gratifying wins. As the Pacers heated up late in the season, West too showcased some of his best basketball of the year, raising expectations for Indiana's postseason run.
In the postseason, West upped his level of play, taking on a larger role in the offense. While he wasn't always on, his level of play was important for the Pacers in the series against Miami, where the team struggled to utilize their size. West's rebounding was a huge key, offering a big advantage in Indiana's rebounding edge in games they won. While the team whimpered to a three game losing streak, West made it a point to lead the Pacers, scoring 24 in the season finale.
On the court, West's play was obvious. A surprisingly physical big man with a lethal jump shot, rebounding knacks, and enough "old school" mentality to really play right into Indiana's brand of basketball, West proved to be one of the franchise's biggest free agency acquisitions ever (on a franchise without a history of free agency movements anyway).
As nice as West was as a player though, his value to the Pacers as a leader was immeasurable. While West wasn't always a difference maker on the floor, his presence alone gave the team considerable confidence. A growth from the team's 37-45 record a year earlier was expected, but without West to lead them late in games, Indiana wouldn't have seen the same growth to a team on pace to win over 50 games instead of the above .500 record fans had simply hoped for heading into the year.
While it's impossible to give too much grief to West, he wasn't always the most reliable player in late game situations with decision making. There were certainly times he made plays without completely taking in the situation and where his teammates were. In addition, where the Pacers gave themselves an advantage in rebounding, West's lack of size and explosiveness often created nights where he was short on the rebounding end, creating a tough situation for a team that needed more help, especially on the offensive glass.
And the Future
David West is probably the most stable player on the Pacers and aside from Paul George, the most likely to return with the blue and gold. The biggest questions about West's immediate future is whether or not the team will aim for an extension or if they'll need to resign him in free agency next summer. Certainly, West's stability and veteran leadership were a tremendous advantage for the Pacers, and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that a season removed from his ACL injury that he can't be a valuable piece to another (hopefully deeper) postseason run in 2013.