Grade the deal: Spurs benefit from David West's investment in legacy
By NBA standards this isn't even a discount, it's more like charity or volunteer work.
Unrestricted free agent forward David West has agreed to a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million, according to NBA.com and Yahoo! Sports. The bargain basement deal comes roughly one week after West turned down a $12.6 million player option with the Pacers.
West might be starting to show his age at 34, but he can still play. Last year, the rugged, versatile power forward averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 66 starts for Indiana. Two years ago, he was the second-leading scorer on a Pacers team that pushed the Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference finals.
What prompted West to take an $11.2 million hit to leave Indiana? In an interview with WTHR.com last week, West said that he "just wants to win" and that he wants to "be in a spot where we can legitimately taste the Finals." West also expressed doubts that the retooling Pacers were in "title contention right now" and said he was "bothered" by how the team's management handled teammate Roy Hibbert. Earlier this summer, president Larry Bird appeared to be pushing the inconsistent Hibbert to opt out of his contract, and the Pacers are now poised to trade their rim-protecting center to the Lakers.
"That's one thing where I wish they would have handled better was the situation with Roy," West told WTHR.com. "I'll be honest with you, that bothered me a little bit, and I told Roy that. I'm the type of guy who feels like we're all in this fight together and I'm not designed in that way to put it all on one guy. That did rub me the wrong way. That threw me off. I started reading some of that stuff, I started thinking, 'Whoa.' I just didn't feel good about that. I told Roy that it bothered me, that he's still my teammate."
While Indiana was saying all the wrong things, San Antonio was doing everything right. Spurs GM R.C. Buford and company have enjoyed a sensational offseason, agreeing to sign All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge away from the Blazers, re-signing Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooter Danny Green, and getting both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to return for another title run.
If West's goal was to make the Finals and get a shot at a title, he came to the right place. San Antonio has advanced to the Finals six times since 1998-99, winning five times, and it has made the Western Conference finals in nine of the last 17 seasons. The core group of Duncan, Tony Parker, Ginobili and Leonard went to back-to-back Finals in 2013 and 2014, winning the championship the second time around. Looking ahead to next season, the Spurs join the defending champion Warriors as the favorites to make the Finals from a Western Conference that saw the Clippers and Blazers fall back while most of the other top contenders mostly treaded water. Prior to West's signing, San Antonio and Golden State were both 9/2 favorites to win the 2016 title, according to oddsmaker Bovada.LV, trailing only Cleveland at 11/4.
For the Spurs, this is yet another coup. West, who was the top name included on SI.com's "Best remaining free agents" list published Monday, plugs in as the fourth big man in the rotation behind Duncan, Aldridge and Boris Diaw, even though he's still fully capable of playing starting minutes on a good team. His addition helps soften the blow from the departures of Tiago Splitter and Aron Baynes, and it provides another very capable player to help keep the minutes off of Duncan, who carried a heavy load early in the 2014-15 season due to injuries to his teammates. How much he plays once the postseason rolls around remains an open question, given the other available options and Leonard's ability to slide up to the four in smaller lineups, but there's absolutely no question he will be ready when called upon.
The NBA just doesn't see this type of decision-making very often. Yes, mid-30s free agents often take less to play on winners. The key difference here is that West chose to become a free agent, rejecting guaranteed money and a bigger role on a likely playoff team to improve his chances at a real run. All told, West has earned more than $87 million during his 12-year career and so he likely views his decision as an investment in his legacy and competitiveness rather than as a give-back. Kudos to him for knowing what he wants from his life and career, and kudos to the Spurs for always being ready to meet those particular needs.