David West reflects on his time in Indy, learning (and winning) with the Warriors, and what’s next

David West, Former Pacer

David West played an instrumental role in setting the foundation for a new era of Pacers basketball back in 2011. He was a free agent after spending his first eight seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans. He liked the opportunity and the Pacers’ vision, eventually taking less money to be part of what was a good fit.

He ultimately spent four seasons with the team, playing in 91.3 percent of the team’s games over that stretch. He was the backbone, old reliable, and was most appreciated for his intellect and maturity within the walls of the locker room for a team that appeared in back-to-back conference finals, losing each to the LeBron-led Miami Heat.

West is well-read and would frequently bring topical conversations into the locker room. From cultural issues to politics, with a hint of music mixed in. He has a diverse palette and never wanted to be painted with just one brush: basketball player.

That’s what he does, not who he is.

More than anything, West preached calm waters. He became the go-to quote in the locker room. Good, bad, or curious, West willingly sat and answered questions. He understood his responsibility and more than that, he served as unofficial team spokesman.

West, who turns 38 later this month, had the chance to re-evaluate his basketball situation in 2015 when he had a player option. After much thought, he declined to exercise his $12.6 million option and instead joined the San Antonio Spurs for $1.4 million, the league minimum.

Former Pacer, George Hill, David West

Hill and West were good friends, and they frequently ran “1-4,” a pick-and-roll with those two in tight situations late in games.

“He’s like a big brother to me,” George Hill said after West’s departure. “I got the utmost respect for him. I know that he made a decision based off of his heart and when you do that, it’s not based off of money or anything. When it’s based off of heart, you can’t be mad at a guy for that.”

That was in 2015, and the Spurs had most recently won an NBA championship during the 2013-14 season. Former Pacer Jeff Ayres (Pendergraph) was a member of that team. West didn’t win a title during his one season in San Antonio, and opted to join the Golden State Warriors. That’s where he’s spent the last two seasons, winning his first NBA titles.

See Also: Pacers face ‘Big Brother’ David West for the first time since he moved on

West appeared in 73 games and averaged 6.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game during the 2017-18 season. His minutes have decreased quite a bit, from 28.7 per game in 2015 with the Pacers down to 13.7 per game in Oakland.

When David celebrated his first title, in 2017, he had friend and former Pacers teammate Rasual Butler – aka ‘Old Hat’ – join him on the parade float. Unfortunately, Butler tragically died in a car accident earlier this year.

West now has two rings and played five years longer than he even imagined. I remember standing with him in the north east corner of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, along with a few other reporters, listening to David reflect on his time in the league. He shared how he would be thrilled if he made it to year 10. 10 years in the NBA would be satisfying. This was back in 2015, his 13th season. The only thing he lacked was a championship.

“David is a hell of player, but he’s also one of our leaders and mentors for our younger guys,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s been fantastic in that role. He’s the adult in the room. He gets it, is a really, really smart player, and emotionally powerful presence. He’s been a huge factor for us the last couple of years.”

West is currently an unrestricted free agent and will not return to the Warriors for a third season. It’s unclear whether he will play another season, or whether he went out on a high note — a second straight NBA Title.

This past spring, when the Warriors visited Indianapolis (before another championship), I caught up with David about his time with the Warriors, finally winning a championship, and how the Pacers look significantly different.

You explained to us how your goal was to make it 10 years. You’re on year 15, what’s working for you?

I don’t know, man. We won last year so there’s a lot of relief. I came into this year with a free mind, with no expectations. The guys wanted me to come back so I took a couple weeks after the championship to figure that out. I just felt like giving it another run and I’ve just been trying to go out with a bang. Just play well when I can, be efficient when I can, be effective when I’m on the floor.

What challenge are you getting from this experience with the Warriors?

It’s learning now. Every day is learning experience and I’m soaking up as much as I can from these elite talents. These guys are elite, in terms of their ability and things that they do. The preparation. Just doing a lot of learning now and mentoring some of the young guys, helping them in spots and answering questions.

Is that what you’ll do in the next phase of your professional life – because you don’t want to be a coach?

Well I coach youth basketball, but I’ll always do that. But I don’t know. I’ll always be around the game because that’s just who I am. There will be other things. Definitely other things.

You’re smiling like you already know what’s next…

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So you do?

Yeah, a little bit. Yeah.

That doesn’t surprise me. Always thinking three steps ahead.

Right right.

What do you think of this Pacers team, which is drastically different than when you were last here?

I think they’re a good, young group. Myles is coming along nicely. I watch him some. Obviously I think Victor has had a heck of a year in terms of getting the reigns and being the guy for a team. I think he’s made them a threat. They’ve had a pretty good year.

When you arrived back at this arena and think back to your four years here, what stands out?

I just think it’s the shift we made. I remember walking in here during the lockout year and trying to figure things out. I think after the first week I felt like we were going to have a good little run. That year, having some challenges in terms of figuring one another out and dealing with a young team and a group that I think made the playoffs the year before in the eighth spot and wanting to put together a winning year. We had the playoffs on our mind from day one. I probably think about that more than anything – the shift and the growth that the group went through from year one to the last year that I was here.

How do you feel about Xavier losing Chris Mack (to Louisville) and Travis Steele being promoted?

I wanted them to go further in the tournament, I’ll say that. Chris did all he could do at Xavier. He had a heck of a run, keeping the program climbing. I think Travis will do a great job of that, just trying to keep the program moving in the right direction and keep contending at a national level. Obviously Chris is one of the great young coaches so with him going to Louisville, I think everybody kind of expected it because he’s such a hot commodity. He’s a program changer. I think he’ll do great at Louisville and I expect Travis to keep things rollin’ and keep the tradition going at Xavier.

(Note: Another reporter joined and asked the following questions.)

How does basketball feel different after getting a ring?

Just knowing what it takes to get all the way through, from start to finish and finish on top. It’s really something that I don’t think you can really put it into words other than there’s really no pressure. You know everybody is coming after you, you know everybody is going to give you their best shot, which is fine. In the back of your mind, having gone through it and knowing just how to complete the steps, you have this internal confidence.

Are you more hungry to get a second championship than your first?

I think it’s just the idea of repeating. Looking forward to that challenge of going through another playoff stretch where we have a chance to repeat, which is one of the tougher things to do in sports.

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