Bringing back David West top priority for Pacers

Associated Press photo by Lynne SladkyIndiana's David West works before Game 7 of the  Eastern Conference finals earlier this month.
Associated Press photo by Lynne SladkyIndiana's David West works before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals earlier this month.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers took the Miami Heat to seven games in Eastern Conference finals, with missed shots and big Heat runs finally doing them in.

Pacers President Donnie Walsh and General Manager Kevin Pritchard know they need to make some moves so that doesn’t happen again.

“You look at it and you say, ‘If we could have made a few more shots, if we could have had a few more players get into the paint,’ ” Pritchard said. “So I think those are areas that we’ll look at.”

It isn’t just shooting. Pritchard pointed out the Pacers’ identity is defense and collecting strong defensive players is just as vital after the best season for the franchise since 2004-05.

“I think that we could get better shooting, as every team in the league could get,” Walsh said Thursday at a news conference to discuss the offseason. “We could get a defensive player or two at different positions and play makers. So we’re looking at those elements more than particular players.”

Bringing back unrestricted free agent David West is Indiana’s top priority when free agency begins July 1. And why not? Averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds, he became the guy Indiana turned to to help close out games. He came through in a big way much of the season.

“We want David back,” Walsh said. “We think he’s one of the anchors of our team. He’s a terrific player and we want him back as much as you could want anyone back.”

Under coach Frank Vogel, the team has steadily improved, reaching the conference semifinals last season and then taking another step this year.

Both runs have come to an end against Miami.

Still, Pritchard said proof that Indiana is moving forward could persuade West into signing with the team again.

Last summer, Indiana gave big contracts to Roy Hibbert and George Hill. They will likely seek to re-sign Paul George and Lance Stephenson, who are scheduled to become restricted free agents in 2014.

And while the bench that didn’t provide much scoring punch against the Heat, Walsh said he’s not worried about it.

The Pacers must also decide what to do with Danny Granger, who led the Pacers in scoring each of the previous five seasons. In 2012-13, he played in only five games because of an injured left knee.

“As we’re moving forward and Danny is healthy and put back into the lineup, whether it be on the bench or starting,” Pritchard said. “That allows us to have one more player that has a lot of experience out there.”

Walsh also said the door is still open for former team president Larry Bird, who left after the 2012 season because of health reasons. Walsh came out of retirement to run the team and always told Bird he had the option to return.

“It remains what I’ve said since I got here and every other day since,” Walsh said. “I’d love to see him come back. He knows he can come back. I’m sure he’s going to direct himself to it.”

Bird’s name has circulated in reports of joining other teams, but nothing has come together. Bird was named president of basketball operations in 2003 and played a significant role in helping the team rebuild over most of the past decade.

NBA Finals

GAME 3 VIEWERSHIP DOWN: In New York, the NBA Finals’ television viewership for Game 3 was down 9 percent from last year.

The San Antonio Spurs’ 113-77 win over Miami on Tuesday night on ABC averaged just over 14 million viewers, down from almost 15.5 million for the Heat-Thunder series a year ago.

This season’s Game 3 quickly turned into a rout in the second half, while Miami’s victory in 2012 was close in the fourth quarter.

Warriors

EZELI HAS RIGHT KNEE SURGERY: In Oakland, Calif., Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli had right knee surgery to reinforce two ligaments.

The team said the procedure, performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Wednesday, was necessary to reinforce the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments.

Ezeli sprained the knee during the regular-season finale at Portland on April 17.

Golden State expects him to soon begin rehabilitation and make a complete recovery, likely in a minimum of six to nine months.

Ezeli averaged 2.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.95 blocked shots — fourth among NBA rookies — in 78 regular-season games and 41 starts as a rookie. He was the 30th overall pick by the Warriors in the 2012 draft.

In 12 playoff games, he averaged 2.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.2 minutes.