How David West Is Changing the Pacers Culture

“I’m not really a rah-rah type of guy.”

Ironically, that was the most boisterous, energetic thing I heard David West say last night after the team’s win in New Jersey. It was their fourth victory in five games, but questions remain about a team that most analysts expect to show marked improvement in the win column this year. Most disturbingly, the offense — a wall-flower party in 2010-11 that was the main reason Indiana was a sub.500 squad — looked largely unchanged.

One thing most onlookers agree has changed, however, is the team’s culture. It’s not as if last season’s team was a cast full of character concerns. This wasn’t the JailPacers Era roster, featuring late-night scuffles, shoot-outs and illegal substances. It was just, as Adrian Wojnarowski puts it, “sophomoric.” Mind you, I didn’t spend that much time in the Pacers locker room last year; I was probably around post-game on only four or five occasions. And last night was the first time I saw how this year’s team behaves after a game.

But West, in particular, stood out as a beacon of seriousness that contrasted last season’s youthful, not-ready-for-primetime vibe.

Woj explains.

For everything free-agent forward David West has brought to the Pacers – a classic, refined presence – he’s declared his loud, bold arrival in the most subtle of ways: performance over promise, correction over criticism, a raised eyebrow over a harsh word.

“I don’t tolerate a lot of ignorance, and I think guys are starting to figure that out,” West said. “I’m not a preachy guy, but I just try to represent something different in terms of who I am.”

Jeff Foster echoed Woj’s sentiments regarding West’s maturity.

“The way he carries himself in the locker room, the weight room, on the court, there’s such leadership,” Foster said. “He speaks up when he sees something that’s not right, but sometimes it’s just a look. He’s been a huge presence so far.”

West has balanced the floor and balanced the room. So much big talk in the NBA, so many big proclamations, and sometimes the softest, surest, steadiest voice can transform a franchise. Sometimes, everyone just needs to watch a man go to work.

As for balancing the floor, that’s something he also does well. According to some, that was almost not meant to be. Many, including Ray Allen, thought West was headed to the Celtics. Last night, however, David brushed off how much was made of him nearly going to Boston. “I think that was more the media than actuality,” West said. “We were never really that close. I think it was more hype.”

Now that he is in Indiana, he is excited to start changing the on-court culture just as much as anything else.

He is trying to lead by example in that regard as well. West’s production has been unimpressive — for him — early on this year. But he looked like his New Orleans self last night, starting off hot by hitting 5 of his first 7 shots, moving the ball without thinking twice and relishing the contact in the paint that too many bigs who have played in Indiana in recent years have shied away from.

To really pick up his individual play, however, he said needs to get all the back to where he was before the injury. He admitted that he will need a few more weeks to be where he wants to be in terms of conditioning and re-gaining his feel for the nuances of the pro game. Coming off of a knee surgery earlier this year, he has only been really playing for three-and-a-half weeks. He was cautious, but diligent with his recovery regimen. He started rehab within days of the operation and was off crutches within four. But he only really started playing ball again the week before free agency began.

David said has no concerns about the knee itself structurally — be clear of that. But he does know he still needs time to get back to being himself on the court and learning his new teammates. And as that progresses, he believes he will be able to further cement his unselfish, disciplined stamp on this franchise.

“We’re still getting familiar with one another,” said West. “We’re trying to change the culture a little bit in terms of not being so much of a one-on-one oriented team. We’ve got so many guys on this team — anybody can really carry the load offensively on any given night. Being unselfish, being able to make plays for one another, is ultimately going to define this team.”

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