When David West elected to take an $11 million pay cut to play with the San Antonio Spurs, the explanation seemed simple: He wanted to win. Larry Bird's public prodding of Roy Hibbert at the end of the season may have played a small part in his decision, but it wasn't the reason. West had spent all of last season riding the team's many high-and-lows, and he knew the Pacers were in the process of transitioning. Bird says West's decision fundamentally altered his approach to the offseason, but the team had already begun to talk about playing faster and smaller at season's end. To West then, the surest path, if there is such a thing, to title contention was not in Indiana where things were in a state of flux. No, it was in San Antonio where the pieces -- proven veterans, battle-tested coach, winning system -- had already been in place spanning three decades.
So, he moved on.
"At this point in my career, it's all about winning, and again, I don't want to be in a position where we're just fighting to make the playoffs, I want to be in a spot where we can legitimately taste the finals," West told WTHR's Bob Kravitz.
But, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, West's decision may not have solely been rooted in his desire to compete for the Larry O'Brien trophy, either.
"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 Ginobili's] brain, asking questions. Asking Tim questions.
"I needed that."
West had to wear a lot of hats for the Pacers. Wojnarowski lists traffic cop, psychologist, big brother, team spokesperson, motivational speaker, and most shockingly: assistant coach. Perhaps this sheds some light on why Roy Hibbert reportedly told his agent prior to being traded that he possibly wanted to play for a coach who had played in the league. Whatever the case, West has punishingly large shoulders, but the weight of his many roles had begun to wear on him.
For this reason, where others may interpret his decision to leave $11 million on the table in the pursuit of title contention as sacrificial, West says he sees himself as a little selfish.
"It was me and my agent, we kind of just put it out there," he explained via Pounding the Rock. "My agent knew where I was going with it. I don't think anybody expected it. Everybody was kind of hearing it, but then when it was reality they were like ‘Yeah, okay, that's what's up.' For me it was the right decision to make for me, for my situation, being a little selfish, wanting to be a part of this organization, learn, and get in this mix."
In San Antonio, he can look up in the rafters at five NBA Championship banners. He can brush shoulders with, arguably, the greatest power forward of all time. He can be coached by someone with over 1,000 career wins. But most importantly, he does not have to be the old man of the bunch, the sole veteran voice. That will be a shared burden in the pursuit of winning.
West, quite clearly, yearned to be a student, again. Not the teacher.
Which leaves one very important question for the Pacers: Who will be his substitute?