No wild West factor, as veteran forsakes riches

NEW YORK • For San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, this is a story about a player's core values more than it is about a franchise's valued core.

It is about the inner David West more than it is about the inimitable San Antonio Spurs.

Buford has spent 13 years in his current position. He is a stealth operator in the dominion of Gregg Popovich, power coach and team president of the five-time National Basketball Association champions. Coming off their 2013-14 title, the Spurs were strong enough to win 55 games last season.

But in July, Buford and Popovich added a premier free agent, luring LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio, never before a destination for the NBA's most talented and leveraged.

San Antonio's David West (right) defending Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks with Kyle Anderson adding muscle to the defence. West sought advice from Tim Duncan before moving to the Spurs. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

That was not even their most startling summer signing. David West was.


You get later in your career, you want to get into the position - and this is me talking to myself - to make decisions based solely on basketball.

DAVID WEST, who moved to the San Antonio Spurs for just US$1.4 million

Now 35, he walked away from a US$12.5 million (S$17.8 million) player option with the Indiana Pacers and signed a San Antonio contract for about US$11 million less.

He also turned himself into a bench player after years as a power forward cornerstone.

"I thought it was brilliant from his standpoint to be able to say, 'I've done all this, I know my family is secure and I can do what makes me happy'," Buford said.

He was speaking about 45 minutes before the Spurs defeated the New York Knicks 94-84 in a spirited early-season game.

Buford also pointed out that West had opted out of his Indiana deal before free agency officially commenced - and so it was technically inaccurate to say he repudiated the Pacers' riches to team up with Tim Duncan.

West, Buford said, could easily have gone elsewhere - champions Golden State Warriors, for instance - in pursuit of his first NBA title.

Phil Jackson strolled by, and the Knicks' team president could have vouched for Buford's revisionist modesty. Jackson was determined to make Aldridge a Knicks centre. Then he signed with the Spurs, who have forever listed Duncan as a power forward.

When Duncan was rested for the fixture at Madison Square Garden, Aldridge looked like the only Spurs player who could be classified as a centre. The upshot is that positional labels mean little in accomplished teams laden with players who understand and embrace the diversity of roles and skills required to win at the highest level.

That is why West, having prepared for and reached the age of true career reflection, decided the veteran's minimum deal of US$1.4 million - all the Spurs could offer - was enough, at least for now.

His money quote: "For me, in terms of basketball, I needed every night to mean something, in order to keep going," he said.

The power forward - with averages of 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game over a 12-year NBA career - logged only seven minutes against the Knicks. But he scored a basket, grabbed two rebounds and had three assists.

He had his best game in a Spurs shirt against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, scoring 10 points with four rebounds, five assists and one block in 17 minutes on court as the Spurs won 92-83.

Originally a 2003 first-round draft pick of New Orleans, West spent the last four seasons with the Pacers, the adult in a locker room of younger players muscling up to challenge the supremacy of a dynasty created by decree upon LeBron James' 2010 signing in Miami.

Indiana came close in consecutive years, falling short and then apart. But West did not want to play the blame game.

"It was a great environment, but I got to the point where I felt it was time to move in a different direction," said the 12-year veteran.

West had long admired the Spurs and especially Duncan, four years his senior and a role model in professionalism. He called Duncan and spoke of his interest in the Spurs.

Duncan told him it would be a "very productive experience, a good choice".

First, there was a matter of the money, the forfeiture of millions.

"You get later in your career, you want to get into the position - and this is me talking to myself - to make decisions based solely on basketball," said West, who has an estimated US$87 million in career earnings. "That took a lot of settling down, being very patient, very deliberate with spending, with habits, things like that.

"Ultimately, I didn't want to have to scratch every little penny out of basketball. I never let the illusion of the lifestyle consume me, never got that you're supposed to live a certain way because you're in the NBA.

"I knew very early that we have a short window - you might get four years, you might get 10 years, you might be lucky enough to get 15. But you still have the majority of your life to live, so there's got to be some clarity that allows you to make decisions, figure things that are going to be important to you long after you're done playing."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'No wild West factor, as veteran forsakes riches'. Print Edition | Subscribe