Stabilizing the first Domino: Making David West a Hornet for Life

Published: February 21, 2011

In the summer of 2012 the face of the franchise, Chris Paul, has the option of voiding the final year of his contract and becoming a free agent. One full year before that, however, the Hornets other cornerstone piece will likely hit the open market, and his decision might be the one that impacts this franchise for years to come.

David West has often been called one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and he has outperformed his salary number for several years now. This season he is making just under 8.3 million, and he is having perhaps his best year of his career. A career, mind you, that includes two All-Star appearances. Meanwhile, there are several guys playing his same position, getting paid far more for doing far less. Troy Murphy is getting paid nearly 12 million this season to waste away on the bench in New Jersey. Elton Brand, who is similar in age to West, will get paid an average of 17 million per year for these next three years to do less than West. Boris Diaw is getting 9 million a year to eat at every restaurant in Charlotte.

When you look around the league, there are few guys who are not in their rookie contracts that give the value that David West gives to the Hornets. David West is a top 30 NBA player, if you take the All-Star game and the snubs as a gauge of who the top players are in the league right now. Take the 24 guys we saw last night, add LaMarcus Aldridge, Lamar Odom, David West, Monte Ellis, Jokim Noah, and Carlos Boozer- and you have the top 30 for the sake of this piece. Look at the salaries of all those players. Now eliminate those guys still on their rookie contract, and you will see that David West has the 2nd lowest salary behind Lakers reserve Lamar Odom, who makes $200,000 less than West this season.

West will be 30 this summer, and 31 as he enters his next NBA, meaning that this next deal will likely be his last sizeable NBA contract. Since David West signed his last contract, he has seen a slew of NBA power forwards sign lucritive contracts, and nobody could fault West if he would like to chase similar money. The question is whether there will be suitors willing to pony up contracts similar to what Carlos Boozer or Amare Stoudamire got this offseason.

Boozer was nearly two years younger than West will be when he signed his contract this offseason, and Amare was only 27 when he signed his deal. In that sense, the comparison is not apples to apples and you can also argue that Boozer and Stoudamire had more impressive raw stats than West, but to counter those advantages each of those guys had a history of injuries that David West simply does not have. Those red flags did not stop GM’s from salivating over the two stud power forward’s, as each received contracts with an average annual salary of over $16 million per year.

It is doubtful that the Hornets, or anyone else for that matter, would be willing to pay that much for David West, but it might be safe to assume that the price tag for West will reach at least $10-13 million annually if the new CBA is relatively similar to the current one. The fact is that power forward is a sought after position in the league, and this summer the crop of free agents will be relatively weak. Other than David West, there is only one sure fire starter likely to be available, and that is Memphis’s Zach Randolph, who is said to be seeking a contract similar to Pau Gasol’s 3 year/$57 million deal.

Carl Landry, Big Baby, and Kenyon Martin are serviceable power forwards who can either start or come off the bench, but none of them will be nearly as sought after as West. The question is: How much is West worth on the open market, and how much is he worth to the Hornets? Answering that question involves looking deeper into some other factors, such as:

Which teams might be in the market for David West?

In addition to answering this question, you also have to look for teams that West will be interested in joining. At this point in his career, he is unlikely going to want to go to a team that is in the initial stages of a rebuilding project. Therefore, the teams that are likely to pursue West and have the possibility of stealing him from the Hornets will have to meet three criteria: cap space, an open spot at power forward, and a roster that will be capable of contending in the immediate future.

Several teams can check off two of the three. Indiana and Sacramento will have holes at the power forward position and plenty of money to spend next offseason, but neither can legitimately call themselves contenders, even if they do add West. Sacramento has a nice nucleus in place that could benefit from a veteran like West, but their young guys have a long way to go before they learn how to become winners, and David West doesn’t have that kind of time left in his career.

Indiana could be intriguing to West, as he can be reunited with point guard Darren Collison, and joining a front line with Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. The problem is that the East is loaded, and will become even stronger once Melo lands in NY or NJ, so Indiana’s ceiling would likely be a six or seven seed and a first round exit.

Orlando also has two of the three, as they are a legit contender with a hole at power forward, but the unfortunate part for them is that they will have no wiggle room financially. They can try to pry West away in a sign and trade, but there are no pieces that the Hornets would really want on that squad, and the Hornets can offer West far more than the Magic can if they just try to sign him outright.

So who is the biggest threat for David West? Is there a team that meets all three of the criteria? There is one, and only one that can give D West the money, the chance at a title, and the starting power forward spot- the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC has Mo Pete and Nenad Krystic coming off the books, and other than Kevin Durant, every player on the team is either on a modest salary (Nick Collison) or on their rookie contract.

They face a tough decision with Jeff Green this summer, who is a RFA, but just does not fit what the team needs from the power forward position. If they decide to let Green go or make him a part of a trade, they can make an offer to David West that would be in the Carlos Boozer range, or close to it. The question for OKC, is what they think of Serge Ibaka. Is he a center, a power forward, or a guy they like better off the bench? From there they will likely decide whether to spend their money on Green, a center, or a power forward. If they choose the latter, West will likely be their number one target.

How long can we expect David West to play at this level?

David West’s game does not depend on athleticism as much as it does on savviness and guile. He is a crafty scorer who does not make a considerable impact on the defensive end or on the glass. His rebounding numbers have gone down every year since 07-08 (he is up .1 over last season, but I expect that to drop once Okafor gets back) but his points per shot and true shooting percentages have been consistent.

Many claim that David West is a poor man’s Karl Malone, and if that is the case, we can expect to see several more quality years from West. Malone’s statistics did not really take a serious dip until the 01-02 season, when he was 38 years old. Malone was able to remain so productive because he got to the free throw line, something that West does not do as well, but other than that the two were quite similar, as Malone took far less shots “at the rim” in the second half of his career, and instead stayed on the perimeter.

Conversely, Buck Williams, who also has some similarities in his game, faded at the age of 32 and declined every year following that season. Otis Thorpe, who had a similar body to David West and a reliable jumper, did not decline considerably until he was 35, and the guy I find most similar to D West (Terry Cummings) had a significant injury when he was 31 and went from being a quasi All-Star to a journeyman for his final seven years in the league.

It is a mixed bag, but West will likely stay at or around this level for at least three more years if he remains injury free. After that, he is likely to decline, but not at a drastic level, considering the fact that he stays in such good shape in the offseason. Barring injuries, there is no reason to believe that this will be a Peja or Posey situation, in which the Hornets will be stuck with a horrendous contract 2 or 3 years into the deal. Anything more than four years would be risky, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see David West racking up 16 and 6 on 50% shooting five years from now, which would still put him in the upper half of starting power forwards.

Will David West take a “home town discount?” Should the Hornets overpay West if they have to?

These are polar opposite ends of the spectrum, but the Hornets have to be prepared for both. Let’s tackle the home town discount one first. Imagine a scenario where West does not get an offer from a legit contender, and therefore must decide from a more lucrative offer from a team like Indiana or a more modest one from the Hornets. Which would he choose? More than the money, I think the deciding factor would be the stability that the Hornets could offer. Why would West be loyal to a team with no owner and no clear direction?

But if the ownership situation gets sorted out and the buyers are local, the Hornets become that much more intriguing to David West, and as long as the offer is competitive, it is likely that West would remain a Hornet. But what about the second question- should the Hornets overpay West if they have to? Let’s imagine that they set fair market value at 4 years and 42 million for David West. This seems reasonable considering the extensions that Noah and Aldridge recently signed with their teams. But is David West worth more to the Hornets than he is to anybody else, and if so, should he be paid as such?

Even with local ownership in place, it is hard to envision a scenario in which David West leaves and Chris Paul resigns with the Hornets a year later. While it is true that David West and Chris Paul have not always seen eye to eye, and CP3 gets frustrated from time to time with West’s effort and energy level, he still is the best player CP3 has ever played with as a Hornet and that will be difficult to replace. Not only is David West perhaps the best power forward in next summer’s UFA class, but after Melo signs, he might just be the best overall player.

Replacing West with a Carl Landry would set the Hornets back considerably, and using that money to add a shooting guard like Jason Richardson might upgrade that position, but not enough to offset the loss of West. Similarly, a sign and trade might fetch the Hornets some pieces back, but chemistry is as important as talent in this league, and there is no way that CP3 will develop the chemistry with his new sidekicks that he has with West. Going into the summer of 2012, the Hornets want to show Paul that they are on their way up, that they can and will contend for titles. If West leaves, and Paul has to play through a bumpy 2011-2012 season with an unfamiliar crew, he might be as good as gone.

With that in mind, it might be necessary for the Hornets to over pay West, either in annual salary or in years. Perhaps they will have to guarantee a 5th year in order to get him to stay. But first and foremost, they have to show him that they have some stability in their overall structure, and that starts with local ownership.

How will the new CBA effect the negotiations with D West?

That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that under the current CBA, it is nearly impossible for the Hornets to get an extension done with West. Because teams can only give their players a modest raise, the maximum that the Hornets can offer West does not equal what West and his agent deem he is worth. In that sense, the Hornets’ hands are tied until West voids the last year of his deal and the new CBA is worked out.

Many assume that the new CBA will have a hard cap, or something close to it, and if that is the case, the final number will go a long way in determining West’s future. The Hornets are committed to Jack, Paul, Ariza, and Okafor for $41 million next season and $44 million the following season. If the cap is around $60 million, as some expect, it might be hard to pay West and fill out the rest of the roster unless the Hornets can unload Ariza or Jack for cheaper alternatives.

The long and short of it is that David West potentially holds the future of Chris Paul in his hands, which in turn, determines the fate of this franchise. Cleveland has seen first hand what happens if you lose a mega-star, as their franchise value has dropped over $100 million and their performance on the court has been dreadful. If the Hornets believe that the future of Paul is partly tied in with the future of West, then they must secure that first domino, and save the rest from crashing down all around them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.