OAKLAND - David West knows all about the Warriors’ collapse against Cleveland in the NBA Finals last June. But he didn’t watch the series as it unfolded. West had played for Indiana Pacers squads that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons, and he couldn’t bear to witness other teams vie for the prize that had so narrowly eluded him.
“Once you’re down to the last four teams a couple years in a row, and you can’t get to those final two, you don’t want to watch it,” West said Tuesday after the Warriors had practiced in preparation for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. “You actually spend that following two weeks just replaying everything that went over in the series. So you don’t even really have the focus to watch games.”
This year, West expects to watch every minute of the NBA Finals, either from the Warriors bench or from his station in the key.
At 36, West has given Golden State a lot off the bench this season. He is a tough, heady inside defender and a brilliant passer out of the post. Those traits will be even more valuable if Kevin Durant misses any games with the calf strain the team announced Tuesday.
West has brought more than game skills. He is an athlete who commands respect, his fearsome battlefield scowl softened off the court by intelligence, experience and patience. Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted Tuesday how valuable West has been as a mentor to Draymond Green.
“He plays with a lot of intensity, and a lot of emotion. I think a lot of people are intimidated by him, but I’m not,” West said of Green. “If he needs to hear something, I tell him. He responds.”
In return for these myriad services, West is getting something from the Warriors: a little more than $1.5 million, and the chance to win an NBA championship.
“It was a big part of it,” West said of the latter. “I always talked about the tail end of my career, man, just wanting to be in these high-level basketball environments. I think going after a ring or winning a championship comes with being in these environments.”
About half of the Warriors roster spots are filled by guys who won a title with the team two years ago.
Among those who didn’t, it is Durant’s pursuit that has received the most attention.
But when I asked Durant how badly he wanted to lift that trophy, he demurred.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the whole group,” he said. “One player doesn’t win a championship. One player doesn’t lose a championship. You do it as a group.”
That’s how you have to answer when you’re Kevin Durant. He endures the scrutiny of a sports superstar. Many basketball fans are rooting for Durant, the league MVP in 2013-14, to earn his first NBA ring. Just as many hope he fails, wages for his sin of leaving Oklahoma City for Oakland as a free agent last offseason.
West is in a different place. He was never in Durant’s category of superstar, but he has been a very good power forward, a two-time All-Star who averaged better than 20 points and 8.5 rebounds in the three seasons with the Hornets between 2004 and 2007. Now, in his 14th season, West has become a role player who averaged 12.6 minutes per game during the regular season.