The Indiana Pacers’ prospects for the 2014-2015 season took a drastic turn in early August when superstar wing Paul George was lost for the year due to a broken leg. Combining George’s absence with the free agency departure of Lance Stephenson leaves the Pacers without their two top playmakers, making offense even more difficult for a team that labored as much as any on that end down the stretch of 2013-2014.
Of those players expected to pick up the scoring slack is guard C.J. Watson, who shored up one of his team’s biggest weaknesses last season by providing consistent two-way play off the bench. Watson took time from his busy offseason schedule recently to talk with Dime, and painted a measured, realistic picture of Indy’s adjusted place among the league hierarchy in 2014-2015. And if the Pacers defy expectations and emerge as legitimate threats in the Eastern Conference, you can bet an ultra-aggressive Watson will be helping to lead the charge. Considering Watson’s rare, winding, and unlikely path to such a rock solid career, we certainly wouldn’t be shocked if that ultimately proves the case.
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Dime: Your foundation, Quiet Storm, is very, very impressive. What inspired to you to want to give back on a daily, year-round basis?
CJ Watson: Just the upbringing that my parents had for me, being raised by both parents. Being raised in the church we were always giving to the homeless, helping people out, helping the elderly out. So I always said that if I ever got in the position to help other people and put smiles on their faces, I’d definitely want to do that – just giving back to the kids and other people that we do certain events for.
D: Quiet Storm covers a wide-range of charitable spectrums. Is there a specific aspect of your foundation that you’re especially proud or really enjoy getting involved with?
CJ: Yeah, I think the basketball camp is most fun for me. Just seeing how much fun the kids have with it, and hearing them say how they’re always supporting me, watching my games, and wanting to be just like me and things like that. It just brings joy to my heart to see these kids have fun with the game of basketball, and really wanting to be great all-around.
D: Switching gears to basketball now, just in general how has the offseason? Obviously, a lot has happened with the Pacers.
CJ: It’s been good – just been working out and getting ready for the season. It’s gonna be a difficult season for us since some of our players left and some got hurt. Its gonna be… It’s gonna be interesting.
D: Is there a specific aspect of your game that you really honed in on improving this summer given those departures and injuries?
CJ: Just being more aggressive. Trying to be more of a scorer and getting more comfortable with my teammates, my team, and how coach wants to use me. But also just going out there and playing my game; definitely scoring more because we lost a lot of our scoring load.
D: Your road to the NBA was a lot different than a lot of guys who are as established as you are – you weren’t draft, went overseas, and played in the D-League before really catching on in the league. How has that process helped you through the trials and tribulations of your NBA career?
CJ: It’s helped me a lot. Just to have faith and also to never give up. I could have easily given up and taken a different path or really just quit, but I stayed focused and stayed with it, just being persistent and persevering through it all.
D: You’ve moved around a bit in the past few years, and you’re a free agent after this season. I know you can’t discuss a new contract with the Pacers at this point, but would you really like to set some roots down in Indy?
CJ: Definitely. It’d be great just to stay in one place and finish up my career in Indiana. It’s a great city, great place, the fans are great, and the team is great. So it’d be good for me to finish up here – it would definitely be fun.
D: We’ve already touched on this some, but it was obviously a very tumultuous offseason for you guys with losing Lance [Stephenso] and Paul George going down with a serious injury. Is it hard to re-adjust team-wide expectations for what you guys want to accomplish this season? Those are big, big losses.
CJ: Yeah, I think it is, but it’s also realistic. We have to be realistic at some point. We lost a lot of scoring punch, and until Paul gets back and gets healthy it’s going to be tough for us to score. So a lot of people are just gonna have to step up, I think. It’s going to be an interesting season to see how we use all of our guys, but I think we’re up for the challenge.
D: Your role will definitely change a bit after the team lost so much perimeter firepower. Is looking for your shot more often something you’re looking forward to doing?
CJ: Definitely. I’m definitely gonna try to help pick up the scoring load and really be a threat off the bench. But also come in and still run the team and set other guys up while looking for my shot, too.
D: Everyone in the NBA came out in such strong, overwhelming support of Paul immediately after his injury. How have you guys reacted as a team?
CJ: You know, I can’t really say because we haven’t gotten the whole group together yet. But it definitely hit everyone pretty hard. When he did get get hurt I went to the hospital to see him and the general manager (Kevin Pritchard) was there, and he was definitely pretty hurt, Paul’s agent was pretty hurt. So I know it’s gonna take a toll on us, but Paul just coming to the gym and being around the team a lot will definitely help with that, and we’ll be able to help him a lot, too.
D: You played with the Chicago Bulls in 2011 and 2012 under Tom Thibodeau, and the Pacers are obviously a very strong, strong defensive team as well. Is there something specific about Thibs and Frank Vogel that make their teams so good on that end? Or does it have more to do with personnel like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Roy Hibbert, and PG?
CJ: I think it’s a little bit of both. You definitely have to have the coaching aspect to put that defensive mentality in place, but you also have to have the players to do it. With some players I played with on the Bulls, I found that you can be a not-great defensive player but still get down, do the dirty work, and really make yourself fit into that structure of defense and it will work sometimes.
D: As a perimeter defender, what’s it like to have a safety net like Hibbert behind you?
CJ: It’s great. I know I like to gamble a lot, so he makes up for a lot my gambling – him, D. West, and even Paul. They’re long the perimeter, they block shots, and they’re big down there, scaring guys away into just missing shots sometimes. So it’s definitely a big benefit for me.
D: This is something I like to ask guards: What’s the hardest part about defending the perimeter in today’s NBA? Getting hit with ball-screen after ball-screen and having to navigate through so much contact seems like it would be very, very taxing.
CJ: Yeah. All those screens, getting hit, but also not being able to hand-check guys – back in the old days you could guard a ballhandler with your forearm and stuff like that. So it’s easy to get foul calls by just even accidentally running into somebody. Yeah, it’s pretty tough.
D: Individually, what are your goals for the 2014-2015 season?
CJ: I really just want to come out and try to be as aggressive as I can. Staying healthy, too, after missing a month and-a-half last year due to injury, so I definitely want to be available as much as I can.
What do you think?
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