October 18, 2018

Last summer in a shocking move, David West turned down $12 million to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. It is an amount of money that most of us cannot comprehend. If dollar bills were individually laid lengthwise, the money West left behind would stretch from San Antonio to his previous home in Indianapolis Indiana. West could’ve bought every item listed on this page including a submarine, an airplane and diamond encrusted fishing lure.

But West instead chose against a big payday and decided to join the Spurs, who he hopes to help in their quest for a sixth NBA title. While his decision was unfathomable to some–including loveable ol’ Uncle Luke–West has never expressed any regrets in his decision. Last October he discussed his choice with USA Today’s Sam Amick (who is also quite loveable).

“My whole career, I’ve been very strategic about what I’ve done with my money and how we’ve invested,” West said. “The future is very bright, so when it came down to this basketball decision, I was saying, ‘Well, it’s not about money at this point, it’s about finding … a good basketball environment where I might learn and ultimately compete at the very top. These guys (the Spurs) are there every year. The organization, there’s like a mythological lure about them and the way people talk about them.

“I’ve been a Spurs fan my whole life, and having an opportunity and wanting to learn from (Tim) Duncan and Manu (Ginobili) and Tony (Parker) and obviously Coach (Gregg) Popovich and all his knowledge, I just felt like it was a good environment, and it was the best environment.”

And the value West brings in his role to San Antonio goes beyond the bargain basement price that they were able to acquire him for. He is averaging seven points and four rebounds per game in 17.5 minutes off the bench, but more importantly, West provides Gregg Popovich flexibility in his rotations as he begins his late season tinkering.

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We saw glimpses of that in Saturday night’s game against Oklahoma City. West was crucial in the fourth quarter as the Spurs made a run to overcome a late six-point deficit to win the game. Pounding the Rock’s Eli Horowitz masterfully broke down the Spur’s offensive sets that took advantage of West’s mid-range proficiency.

After Anderson dumps it into West and cuts through, you have the two bigs at the high post, with all three guards spread low. The impending result is just filthy: Mills cuts up to take the dribble hand-off from West, and West uses his body to shield Mills and screen Foye (who is guarding Mills). This leaves both Kanter and Foye hopelessly chasing Mills. Durant is stuck honoring Ginobili, and Kyle Anderson has already cut through, taking his defender with him.

As West pops out for the jumper, the Thunder’s only hope is a Nick Collison rotation. But seeing where the play is going, Diaw dives to the rim, forcing Collison to choose between conceding a potential alley-oop from Mills to Diaw, or running out to contest the West jumper. Collison chooses correctly to stick with Diaw, but with both Foye and Kanter chasing Mills, West is all alone as he rips through the 19-footer.

And as I have written before, it will be up to guys like David West and Boris Diaw to play at a very high level in order to stay competitive with Golden State and Oklahoma City in the playoffs. The versatility both bring will be crucial to the Spurs postseason success.

To say that Gregg Popovich is “efficient,” in his praise for players during the season would be kind. Popovich is a coach famously stingy with his words, but he has been effusive (relatively speaking, of course) in his praise for West’s work ethic and consummate professionalism. On Saturday night West showed signs that the Spurs paltry investment in him could pay huge dividends.

Last summer, David West made the decision to eschew millions for the chance to be exactly where he is now–in fine position to chase with his teammates the sport’s ultimate prize. Beyond any material possessions or 1,200 mile money trail, that fact alone has to be rewarding for him.

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Travis Hale

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