David West is the biggest free agent signing in Indiana Pacers’ history. He wasn’t the sole cause of the team’s rise in recent years; Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Frank Vogel probably all deserve more credit.
But it’s hard to see it happening without him.
The presence, professionalism, and leadership he provided from the second he arrived in Indiana changed the whole tenor of the team. Before West got here, it was a loose, unfocused franchise. Within months, much had changed, and the young players with potential had a rock alongside them to follow.
The Beginning of the End
Aside from Paul George, David West was the first guy I thought about after PG shattered his leg. It’s over for him, I thought.
Losing Lance made it unlikely he would ever get to a Finals. Paul’s injury sealed it.
West knows it, too.
He was honest when talking to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star about George’s injury, a moment he sees as the beginning of the end of his NBA career.
“When he got hurt, I was sorta like ‘damn!'”
“What we were looking for, obviously what our goals were as a group the last couple years, the light just went out on that,” West continued.
In short, he knows Indiana’s title hopes are gone.
“I understand we’re not in that space anymore in terms of this group, but that’s fine. It’s just a reality you have to deal with, but you got to accept it and face it in order to get yourself moving and producing positively.”
While the injury came as a surprise, the idea that his career is coming to a close is nothing new to West.
He told Buckner that he might have retired after the 2012-13 if Indiana had beaten the Miami Heat in Game 7 and gone on to win a title.
“I was already close to retiring a couple years ago,” West said after practice. “I was telling guys then, if we had won the championship [in 2013], I probably would have walked away.”
West can opt out of his contract next summer.
That doesn’t mean he will, but the two-time All-Star told Buckner that already he feels like he’s fulfilled his goal. When he entered the league in 2003 — some forget he was the 18th pick in arguably the best draft class ever — he wanted to play 10 years.
He is past that, entering year 12 now.
Like every athlete, David West wants to win a title. But he seems to have accepted that it will probably never happen. He has all but said that one of his career goals is no longer achievable in Indiana.
Hearing some players assess their team’s future so honestly would be cause for concern. Uh oh — he is about to check out. He will demand a trade.
But thinking that way in this case means misunderstanding David West.
Winning a ring is cool, sure, but his real bucket list includes one goal: being a professional basketball player — with the “professional” part not defined by a salary but by him doing his damn job everyday.
People don’t play the way he plays otherwise. People don’t carry themselves the way he carries himself otherwise. People don’t transform an organization’s culture the way he has otherwise.
One of my favorite songs is a track by rapper Immortal Technique called “Caught in a Hustle.” It starts like this:
They say the odds against me, are crooked and impossible
Like I was born with a hole in my heart as an obstacle
I was left to die by the doctors in the children’s hospital
But I never lose hope — success is psychological
That song never appeared on an official album. It just sits in the rapper’s underground catalog, unheralded by the masses but respected forever by those who know about it.
That’s where I see David West right now.
The odds against him are impossible. He can’t win a title, but he will persevere nonetheless, continuing to play ball the way he has always played ball, to carry himself the way he has always carried himself.
It won’t get him a trophy, but that’s all right. The act of being a professional is the reward.
Success is psychological.
Whether he plays one more year or three, I expect David West to be a Pacer. He doesn’t strike me as the type who can be bothered to uproot his life just to clothe himself in a different uniform and further harm his body in a different city.
Instead, he will probably play out his career in blue and gold, grinding away and burying jumpers instead of chasing glory.
Otherwise known as being David West.