David West is Pacers' top priority

The Indiana Pacers' top offseason priority will be re-signing David West, who heads into free agency after posting averages of 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds during the season and virtually identical numbers in the playoffs.

Despite speculation that the 6-foot-9, 250-pound soon-to-be 33-year-old West might sign with a team to reunite with former teammate Chris Paul, who also will be a free agent, West has continued to make it perfectly clear where he would like to play next season.

"This is my group. These are my guys. You know, I can't see myself going anywhere else," West said after Monday's Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

"We're the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, one of the top four teams in the league, in my estimation, based on this year. This group is a solid group. It gives me as an individual the best chance to accomplish the goals that I have left in terms of my future, and that's competing at this stage of the game every single year from here on out."

The question is how much can this small-market team afford?

Last summer, Indiana gave big contracts to Roy Hibbert and George Hill. The Pacers also face the costly proposition of trying to re-sign Paul George and Lance Stephenson, who are scheduled to become restricted free agents in 2014, while trying to improve a bench that didn't provide enough scoring punch in the conference finals.

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 and watched from the bench as the Pacers came within one win of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since Reggie Miller & Co. in 2000

Granger's absence gave Indiana a glimpse into what the future could be.

At age 23, George led the team in scoring (17.4), made his first All-Star appearance, was a third-team All-NBA choice and a second-team choice on the league's all-defensive team. Then in the playoffs, he showed everyone why he's an emerging superstar.

Stephenson also took advantage of the move from career backup to NBA first-time starter and delivered two key postseason performances that helped Indiana play into June.

If Granger comes back healthy, it would give the Pacers another big scorer and perhaps deliver the one missing link to get past Miami.

"I told him (Granger) that if he returns to full health and he plays like he has, he'll be the starter," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I also challenged Lance Stephenson not to let that happen."

With Granger's salary expected to top $14 million next season, the Pacers could try to move the 30-year-old to add another big-time scorer in the backcourt or depth to the bench.

"I expect to be back in the starting lineup," Granger said.

But if this season demonstrated one thing, it was this: They don't need Granger to be a contender.

They won the Central Division by 3½ games over the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, upset the second-seeded New York Knicks by rendering NBA scoring champ Carmelo Anthony ineffective in the fourth quarter and then beat up Miami inside.

Indiana finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in defensive field goal percentage, 3-point defensive field goal percentage and rebounding while finishing second in scoring defense. And in a league that has gone small, the Pacers are winning by going big.

That blueprint nearly worked this year and it could keep them in contention for a title for another decade.

"Again, we've got the same goals we had last summer," West said. "Our only focus is going to be to beat Miami. I mean, that's what it was at the beginning of the year, and I don't see that changing in the foreseeable future."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.