“A big smile,” he said. “A really big smile.”
For so many reasons, Scola is just what the coach ordered for the Pacers’ bench, which needed a backup power forward, some reliable scoring from the frontcourt and a savvy veteran with only winning in mind.
Scola is all of those things. But not just all of those things.
The move to acquire the 33-year-old forward, a veteran of six NBA seasons and more than a decade of international success with Argentina’s national team, reinforced the very clear message that the Pacers have one, and only one goal for the 2013-14 season, and it involves rings and banners.
“I want everybody in this state thinking that we’re going for it,” Vogel said. “I want our players understanding that we’re going for it. This is going to be one of the best eras in Pacers history. The next four or five years, at least, we’re going to have a chance to win it all and that’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
For Scola, who hasn’t been on a playoff team since 2009, his second season in Houston, it is a welcome change.“It’s a great chance for me to do something that actually means winning and helps a team win and goes to try to get a ring, a championship,” Scola said. “These last couple of years, I didn’t have a chance to play for a team that was looking for a ring and now I do and that’s very important. …
“The older you are, the more you know it is all about winning. Nobody really cares what you do on a bad team or what numbers you have if you never play (in the) playoffs. It’s all about winning and I know that. The older I am, the more I think that, the stronger I believe that and I’ve got a chance to win right now so I’m happy.”
For Scola, this will mean a significant adjustment to coming off the bench. He has started 410 of 468 NBA games, with most of his previous reserve time coming during his rookie season in Houston in 2007-08.
He brings career averages of 14.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and .504 shooting to the Pacers. Those numbers might dip a bit, but that’s fine as long as the ultimate goal remains within reach.
“I don’t think it’s really important if you start a game,” he said. “I’m more worried about what role I’m going to have in the team and how important I’m going to be for the team. A big part of that will be my responsibility. What kind of impact I have and what I do for the team is going to be my responsibility so I’ve got a lot of work to do. I respect David (West) a lot. I think he’s a great player. He was here before and I’m not here to break anything the team has. I know the team has a great chemistry. I’m not going to be the guy who breaks that.
“I’m very happy to be doing an important role on a good team, regardless if it’s starting or coming off the bench. I’m going to work very, very hard to be one of those players that makes a difference from the bench.”
With Scola plugged in at power forward, Vogel now has a second unit comprised of point guard C.J. Watson, shooting guard Lance Stephenson (or possibly Danny Granger), small forward Chris Copeland, Scola and Ian Mahinmi. First-round pick Solomon Hill provides depth at both wing spots.
Just like that, a bench that was the team’s fatal flaw last season looks like a potential strength. And all for the modest cost of two players that wouldn’t have factored in the rotation this season (Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee) and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2014.
“It’s an overhaul of the bench with clear upgrades at almost every position,” Vogel said. “Luis Scola comes in here, looking at a bench that struggled to score the last couple of years, one of the savviest offensive players this league has ever seen at the power forward position. Just great experience, a proven winner and this just a heck of an addition.
Scola won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004. In the 2002 World Championship, he was part of one of the most important upsets in the sport’s history, when Argentina became the first international team to beat a U.S. team comprised of NBA players.
There’s only one thing left for him to win.
“That would be the only thing that is missing from my career,” Scola said. “That will be the thing that I will chase from this point until I am done playing.”