Why David West gave back $11 million to join the Spurs

Adrian Wojnarowski

SAN ANTONIO – Everyone else had left the floor in the Spurs' practice facility, but the NBA's oldest star is listening to music on his earbuds, catching and shooting again and again. Beneath the five championship banners hanging on the wall, this is the sweet, soft and comforting rhythm of a dynasty, mesmerizing to the San Antonio Spur paying $11 million for the privilege of playing with Tim Duncan.

"I find myself staring at Tim," David West tells Yahoo Sports. "I have just been trying to find little corners to watch him – and I just stare at him."

David West would have made $12.5 million this season had he stayed with the Pacers. (AP)
David West would have made $12.5 million this season had he stayed with the Pacers. (AP)

West is sitting in one of those quiet corners now, wearing No. 30 because No. 21 is the forever jersey of this franchise. West is a 35-year-old power forward, decorated with the unimpeachable respect of league personnel. His assimilation into these Spurs has a chance to be one of the most seamless the organization's ever seen. Never had a player come to this franchise with such pure intentions.

Some people talk about wanting to win, about championships superseding money but West lived it.

West had a $12.5 million contract option on the third year of his $36 million Indiana Pacers deal – and walked away to accept a $1.4 million veteran's minimum with the Spurs. To those who know West – his principle, his depth, his character – they understand his choice was no choice at all. Those who know him understand that he has carefully invested his money, lived amid modest means. It took him six years to buy a new car and a new house upon entering the NBA. He's a voracious volunteer and donator of time and money.

David West does drive a Lexus now.

He bought it over a decade ago.

"People are talking about what I gave up," West told Yahoo Sports, "but not as much about what I've gained here."

For the first time in years, West watched the NBA Finals in June and found himself yearning for a final championship run. West had been granite for the Indiana Pacers, transforming the team's cohesiveness and professionalism upon his arrival four years ago. The Pacers needed his toughness and talent, yes, but they were desperate for his leadership. They advanced to two Eastern Conference finals with West, and his guidance played an immense role in the development of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and, yes, coach Frank Vogel.

No one messes with West, and it empowered Vogel within that locker room. It took a toll on West, too. From Stephenson's recklessness to Hibbert's fragility, West was constantly the traffic cop for the coaching staff and management and the media. Before West ever stepped on the floor, he had to be big brother and an assistant coach, psychologist and motivational speaker and team spokesman. West embraced it all, fulfilled those obligations, but everything changes for him with these Spurs. He has been one of his generation's most intelligent, dependable players, and yet the chance to immerse himself into the Spurs culture has invigorated him.

"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.

West is looking forward to the opportunity to learn from Duncan. (Getty Images)
West is looking forward to the opportunity to learn from Duncan. (Getty Images)

"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 Ginobili's] brain, asking questions. Asking Tim questions.

"I needed that."

On the way out of Indiana, something else bothered West. Before president Larry Bird and Vogel used a season-ending news conference to publicly eviscerate Hibbert – announcing that the center was no longer in the team's plans, that he would probably be benched, essentially pushing him in public to opt out of the $17 million final year of his contract. This was a conversation that most people would've expected in private out of the Pacers, not public. Few were more stunned than West.

That didn't make his final decision to leave Indiana, but it made his decision to leave easier.

"The whole four years I was there we didn't operate that way," West told Yahoo Sports. "That sort of threw me for a loop. Why, all of a sudden, are we this way? When Roy struggled a few years ago – the playoffs, the season – yeah, we challenged him, but it was more, 'Hey, you've got to participate in your own rescue.' It wasn't, 'Hey, this is all on you.' " That bothered me.

"I guess that was the motivation – they wanted to get Roy out of there – but I just felt we were all in the fight together. It isn't on one guy, it's on the group. It's not on one coach, it's on the unit. That situation shook me up. Roy was a huge part of what we had done – two Eastern Conference finals runs.

"I didn't think he deserved that."

Training camp was still days away, and the Spurs' open gym had ended within the past hour. Duncan was still shooting on the far end, free throws, and corner 3-pointers, a 39-year-old man closing down the practice facility on a Friday afternoon. Before camp started, coach Gregg Popovich told West: You don't have to come here and prove anything. Just fit in, just play ball.

"For me, being a basketball junkie, a guy who studies the game, there's no better environment in the world to learn basketball," West says. "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."

For everyone who wants to talk about what David West gave up to be a Spur, his mind is only on what he's gained. The oldest man in the gym is still shooting. Everyone else is gone. And now, across the court, David West sits on a chair beneath a far basket and goes back to watching Tim Duncan.

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