David West shocked many this summer when he opted out of his $US12.6 million contract with the Indiana Pacers to sign a contract with the San Antonio Spurs for the veteran minimum of $US1.6 million.
The move was widely viewed as another example of the positive feedback loop that is the Spurs. They continue to win and those titles allow them to get better because they are able to sign players to bargain deals, especially veterans looking to add a championship ring to their résumés.
West, who has is 35, has played 12 years in the NBA, and has already made $US87.7 million in his career, was considered just the latest piece, albeit an extreme example taking a bigger-than-usual pay cut.
But as things often tend to be, West’s move to the Spurs was far more complex than just a desire to win a championship.
It turns out West just wanted to be a basketball player again.
West sat down for an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports who explained that West’s responsibilities with the Indiana Pacers went far beyond being a player. He was also had to be, as described by Wojnarowski, “big brother and an assistant coach, psychologist and motivational speaker and team spokesman.”
According to Wojnarowski, those many hats “took a toll” on West.
However, the culture with the Spurs is much different. West is no longer the veteran player that both teammates and management lean on. The Spurs are one of the oldest teams in the NBA, and while that may be a problem for the team, it works out well for West.
“I needed be in an environment where I can really learn again,” West told Yahoo Sports. “We’ve got a few guys older than myself, and I can actually look up and ask questions again … That’s something I haven’t been doing the last few years. You had to focus on your own mindset and mentality and then having to make sure that others are where they need to be. When you’re constantly answering questions, I’ll admit: It gets to be a bit much … I’ve already been picking Manu’s brain, asking questions. Asking Tim questions … I needed that.”
That doesn’t mean West isn’t also motivated to win a championship. Wojnarowski explains that West “found himself yearning for a final championship run” while watching the NBA Finals. But there are certainly other contenders who would have gladly taken West at the veteran mininum salary. But West is a self-described “basketball junkie.”
“For me, being a basketball junkie, a guy who studies the game, there’s no better environment in the world to learn basketball,” West told Wojnarowski. “When you’ve won five championships and have such history, it’s the reason such a calmness that exists here. There’s structure. Things are precise. There’s work. But it’s not suffocating.”
It also helps that West is also doing just fine financially. According to Wojnarowski, West didn’t buy a house or a car until he had been in the NBA for six seasons — by that point, he had already made $US26.3 million in his career — and the car he drives now he bought more than ten years ago.
Now he has a chance to finally get his first title ring and just be a basketball player while doing it.
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