- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Indianapolis Pacers forward David West has reportedly agreed to a minimum-salary contract with the San Antonio Spurs, taking an $11 million pay cut in order to pursue a championship.

How noble of him. How principled. How virtuous.

How … selfish.

Look, you’re allowed to think about yourself before considering others. Plenty of folks are masters at that.

It’s just that West put himself first in a most unconventional way.

I don’t blame him for wanting an NBA title on his resume. What player doesn’t? Winning is the reason we keep score and is every competitor’s ultimate goal. Finish with more points than your opponent, often enough and when it matters most, and you raise the trophy at the end. I get it.

But think about this: West didn’t leave a few measly dollars on the table for a shot at a ring. He opted out of the final year of his deal with Indianapolis — worth $12.6 million — for a contract that will pay him $1.4 million.

The decision borders on recklessness.

I’m not suggesting that pro athletes should chase every last dollar, regardless. But they shouldn’t be too foolhardy when mixing business (contracts) with pleasure (a game). The emotional tug of championship jewelry should be tempered by the cool assessment of dollars and sense.

Granted, the West family isn’t hurting financially. According to basketball-reference.com, he has earned about $88 million over the course of his 12-year career. By all accounts, he has been smart with his money, steering clear of the extravagant lifestyle that leaves others broke. Along with his wife and two children, they’re set for life.

But still, we’re talking about $11 million.

Instead of thinking about confetti falling at AT&T Center, he could’ve designed plans to create even deeper generational wealth for his family. Instead of dreaming about chugging champagne with Tim Duncan, West could’ve helped lift a worthwhile charity, life-saving nonprofit or ground-breaking research team. Instead of envying the Spurs from afar, he could’ve considered his other NBA brethren who now will face unfair pressure to follow suit.

“At this point in my career, it’s all about winning,” West told WTHR.com when he opted out and was virtually certain to take a pay cut. “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.”

He could’ve earned a little more from other playoff contenders such as Washington, which could have offered $5.4 million, or Cleveland, which had $3.3 million waiting for him. But he went all in — all the way to the bottom of the pay scale — to join the presumptive favorites next season.

Unlike a lot of folks, I’m not saying West is outright crazy for taking so much less. Money isn’t everything.

But I find it curious that so many other folks are praising him, while no else sees any selfishness in his decision.

That wasn’t the case when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all signed for less money in order to join forces with the Miami Heat. Remember how that was supposed to be such an awful thing for the league? The nerve of them!

West is nowhere near that level of impact, especially at this stage of his career, and his taking millions less is different than when Duncan or Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki did it.

Duncan and Nowitzki are franchise cornerstones who never played elsewhere. They were content to remain and offer hometown discounts to help their teams compete. Nowitzki rejected max offers from the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets last summer and resigned for $25 million over three years; Duncan’s salary went from $21.5 million to $9.6 million in the first year of the deal he signed in 2012.

West isn’t a future Hall of Famer who elected to stay in place and make it easier for his franchise to bolster the roster. If so, he would be universally hailed as a company man and great teammate like Duncan and Nowitzki.

However, that narrative plays right into the hands of management, usually a bad thing for the workforce. Front offices love to ask players for sacrifices on the court and at the negotiating table, but rarely let emotion drive their decision on who to sign, trade or cut.

Now teams will highlight West as a player whose “priorities” are in the right order. As if something is wrong with, say, the value system of Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Unlike Duncan and Nowitzki, the Lakers’ Bryant opted to max out in 2013 when he signed a two-year extension worth $48 million. That didn’t leave much money for quality reinforcements, and the Lakers have been awful ever since.

But it’s not Bryant’s job to build the roster. Besides, he already owns five championship rings.

West has none.

In his own way, by leaving so much money on the table for a title that’s not close to guaranteed, West is just as “selfish” as Bryant.

It’s just harder to recognize.

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