RALEIGH — Few NBA players are facing more uncertainty than David West.
Like the rest of his pro basketball brethren, West is not sure when the 2011-12 season will begin, or if there will even be one.
An unsigned free agent, the two-time NBA All-Star and former Garner High standout isn't sure for which team he'll be playing. He could return to the New Orleans Hornets when all is said and done, or he could be headed elsewhere.
But coming off surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, West is not sure how wary teams will be of signing a 6-foot-9 power forward who turns 31 in August.
"It's a tricky time right now" said West, who has been rehabilitating his damaged left knee at the Athletic Performance Center in North Raleigh.
For now, all he can do is work to strengthen his knee. And wait.
The ongoing dispute between the NBA and the NBA Players Association over a new collective bargaining agreement has resulted in a lockout. Unlike the NFL, which appears to be closer to a CBA agreement, the NBA's issues could be thornier to resolve, and the work stoppage could be longer.
"Any time you get in labor disputes, you have to make sure cool heads and right minds prevail and work out a deal that's fair and that reflects where the league is now," West said last week. "From my perspective, the longer the lockout lasts, the more opportunity for me to get healthy. But from the players' perspective, we want to play, but, again, we have to make sure the deal we put in place - we're talking about six-, eight-year deals - reflects where the league is now. It's not something where we, as players, are making concessions out of a position of weakness."
West was putting together another strong season with the Hornets - averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a game - and helping push them toward the playoffs before a March 24 road game against the Utah Jazz. Late in regulation, he powered in for a dunk but landed awkwardly.
West's left knee buckled. Everyone sensed immediately it could be a season-ending injury, and it was.
After the season, West opted out of a final year with the Hornets that would have paid him $7.5 million. But he said he isn't ruling out re-signing with New Orleans, rejoining his good friend, point guard Chris Paul.
"I have to do what's best for me and my family," West said. "(Chris Paul) understands it's all about winning, and as the years go, by you can't get them back. I want to win and win big, win a championship.
"But you've got to find the right situation, where it's reality and not fantasy. I just want to be on that stage, have a shot at (a title) and see what happens."
It would be hard to leave New Orleans, West agreed. A first-round draft pick of the Hornets in 2003, he has played for them for eight seasons, in good times and bad. He also has invested a lot in the New Orleans community, working with his wife, Lesley, to aid hurricane victims after Katrina struck in 2005 and performing other community service.
"It's a place and a team that gave me the chance to prove myself and make a name for myself in the NBA," he said. "The city has a special place in my heart. But again, it's a business."
West has an offseason home in Raleigh. He still chuckles when it's mentioned that ACC schools missed on him at Garner High and that he ended up playing collegiately at Xavier for the late Skip Prosser after spending a year at Hargrave Military Academy.
West was named Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year three consecutive seasons and was the AP national player of the year in 2003.
"I was right there, at Garner," he said, shrugging. "I just got overlooked. The rest is history."
The ACL tear was his first serious injury, West said. Dr. David Altchek performed the surgery April 12 in New York, and West has been pushing himself since, putting in three workouts a week at the APC facility in North Raleigh while also using the underwater treadmill at N.C. State's Murphy Football Center and working out with a trainer.
"It was a clean injury, with no other damage to the knee," said Jaime Holt, the APC physical therapist overseeing West's workouts. "It was a 'good' injury, great surgery, and he's doing well in rehab.
"He went back and saw Dr. Altchek a few weeks ago. They were thinking it would be January when he'd be cleared. After that visit, they're thinking November."
For West, it could be perfect timing.
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