The Spurs are well known for their selfless, team-first style. Whether it’s a pay cut, reduced roles or both, the players on the Spurs roster will do anything to bring another championship to San Antonio. It’s how they are able to keep three future hall-of-famers in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, while ushering in the next generation of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
But if there is one player on the Spurs roster that truly embodies that selflessness, it’s first-year Spur and two-time All-Star forward, David West.
Coming off the bench for seemingly the first time in his career, West’s numbers have been cut in half. For his career, he averages 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in 30.6 minutes per game in 885 career games with New Orleans, Indiana and San Antonio. In 70 games with the Spurs, West is averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game.
Just last year, West was averaging 28 minutes a game and started all 66 games he appeared in with the Indiana Pacers, a team that was more than willing to welcome him back.
In July 2013, West signed a three-year, $36.6 million deal with the Pacers. The deal included a player option in which West could opt-out of the contract after two years. West exercised this option in June of 2015, turning down a $12.2 million salary. Instead, he decided to sign with the Spurs at the veteran minimum, $1.49 million.
What would compel a man to leave almost $11 million on the table?
For starters, the 35-year-old has made a combined $87 million over his 12-year NBA career before joining the Spurs. He hasn’t spent his money frivolously, either saving or investing a good portion of his earnings, so money isn’t his number one concern.
“Towards the end of my career, it’s just (about) having options and being able to make decisions based on everything but the fact that I need, need, need money and have to scrape every last dollar out of the NBA,” said West in an interview with USA Today after signing with the Spurs. “I’m beyond that at this point in my professional and personal life. I see guys all the time make decisions based on the money, especially toward the end, just hanging on and trying to make up for mistakes they made earlier. But we’re not in that situation.”
On top of that, he wants a championship. West became well versed in the Spurs ways in 2008 when his Hornets lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. In a seven-game series, West averaged 20 points and 9.3 rebounds while primarily playing against Duncan. He learned first-hand that year that the Spurs’ formula is built for winning.
“I’ve been a Spurs fan my whole life, and having an opportunity and wanting to learn from Duncan and Manu and Tony and obviously Coach (Gregg) Popovich and all his knowledge, I just felt like it was a good environment, and it was the best environment,” said West to USA Today. “I just felt like this was my speed here (in San Antonio), just sort of the way they do things. Like I said, being in New Orleans, competing against them, just knowing what the organization was about and what these guys can bring, I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Watching West’s role with the Spurs conjures up memories of the of the Spurs’ first championship run when they brought in Mario Elie. Just like West, Elie was a 35-year old veteran when he signed with the Spurs back in 1998. An enforcer during the Rockets championship runs in the 1990’s, Elie was brought in to bring some toughness to the Spurs. He challenged and pushed the Spurs to be tougher, especially David Robinson and Duncan.
“I used to bust on this team all the time for being soft. Now I hear other guys calling us soft, and I’m on the team. It bugs me,” said Elie back in 1999. “I know these guys are talented and all, but talent doesn’t always win in this league. Blood and guts do.”
While West is arguably a better scorer than Elie was, they both share the same don’t-mess-with-us mentality. Not many players in the NBA challenge West, but they always come to regret it when they do (here are a few examples from Robin Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Udonis Haslem).
Championship teams almost need that enforcer off the bench to bring an element of toughness. Not a bully, just a guy to prevent bullying from the other team. A playground protector, if you will.
The Spurs went on to win the 1999 NBA championship. Although Elie didn’t receive much credit, he was an integral piece to that championship run, keeping the other team’s bullies at bay, away from Duncan and Robinson. With a smooth mid-range shot and no-nonsense attitude, West might just be the wild card that the Spurs need to win it all this year.