The Indiana Pacers definitely want David West back next season.
They’d also like to keep Tyler Hansbrough, if they can afford it.
On the first official day of Larry Bird’s second reign as president of basketball operations, he reiterated that the top offseason priority is re-signing West. He also said the Pacers had extended a qualifying offer to Hansbrough, a backup forward who was one of their more productive bench players last season.
By offering Hansbrough roughly $4.15 million, it makes him a restricted free agent and gives the Pacers the right to match any offer he finds on the open market.
There is a caveat.
“We have a budget and we’re not going to go over the (luxury) tax for any reason,” Bird said. “David is our No. 1 guy.”
It’s been a busy week for the Hall of Famer.
On Wednesday, the Pacers announced Bird was coming back after taking a one-year hiatus to tend to health issues.
On Thursday, he was re-introduced to the local media in his home state and then stuck around the team’s draft room to discuss what Indiana should do with its two draft picks. Indiana pulled a first-round shocker by taking 6-foot-7 forward Solomon Hill, then traded its second-round pick, Colton Iverson, to Boston for cash.
Team officials said they’re convinced they made the right pick, even if the analysts panned it, because other teams showed immediate interest in trading for Hill.
Before free agency opened Monday, the Pacers opted to make the offer to Hansbrough.
One thing is clear. This is not an organization that intends to stand pat after winning the Central Division title and pushing Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We have to do what we can to have a better bench,” Bird said as coach Frank Vogel sat just a few feet away. “Our starters are pretty good players, but we need guys to come off the bench and not lose the lead like they did last year.”
While the Pacers are hoping a cost-efficient Hansbrough will help stabilize things on the bench, they’d also like Hill to become an integral part of the revamped bench. Hill fits a model Bird prefers — a four-year college player with a reputation for being a team player and a gym rat.
Last season, Hill finished as Arizona’s second-leading scorer (13.4 points) and second-leading rebounder (5.3). He considered leaving school a year early before opting to return for his senior year, saying he didn’t want to finish college after a first-round NIT loss. He’s also a solid defender and the scouting report says he can shoot 3-pointers, too.
When asked to define a successful rookie season for Hill, Vogel responded with three words: “Winning a championship.”
Vogel also cited Hill’s work ethic as a reason he’ll fit in with the Pacers, noting that at Arizona, the Wildcats awarded a yellow jersey to the player who worked the hardest at practice. Vogel said he was told Hill dressed in yellow for nearly two dozen consecutive weeks.
Then there’s the Bird factor.
“It’s very motivating because he’s the legend,” Hill said of Bird. “He put the work in, being in the gym hours before the game, putting up hundreds of shots.”
It’s the same philosophy Bird used to build this team.
During Bird’s first run as president of basketball operations, the Pacers went from outside of the playoffs to making the postseason in 2011, winning a first-round series in 2012 and finally reaching the conference finals for the first time in nine years this past season — after Bird left town.
To continue that steady rise, Bird knows more must be done. He acknowledged Monday that if the Pacers re-sign West as they would like, the next order of business will be finding a backup guard and perhaps another wing player if they can fit all three into the budget.
What else is changing? The Pacers could soon announce the hiring of Nate McMillan, a former NBA head coach who has the playing experience Vogel wanted from at least one of his assistants to help replace Brian Shaw, the new coach in Denver. Vogel also needs a second assistant after Jim Boylen left for San Antonio last week.
“We’re going through the process, putting it together now and it’s going to be a heck of a staff,” Vogel said.
Bird will take care of the rest — figuring out contracts, finding reasonably priced free agents, maybe even pulling off a trade or two — all in the quest to reach the finals next season.
“We’ll see what happens,” Bird said. “We know how much money we’ve got to spend, and we’ve got to be creative with it.”