In his 14th NBA season, Garner’s David West focusing more on winning than making money

David West, left, reacts to the Warriors’ win over the Spurs in March.
David West, left, reacts to the Warriors’ win over the Spurs in March. AP

Many athletes say winning is the most important thing. David West actually put his money where his mouth is. Or less money, anyway.

For two straight seasons, the Garner High product has signed for the veteran minimum to increase the chance he wins his first NBA title.

Last year, that meant turning down $12.6 million from the Indiana Pacers and taking a $1.5 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs. This season, he signed another veteran’s minimum deal to play for the Golden State Warriors, who lead the Spurs 3-0 in the Western Conference finals heading into Monday’s Game 4. West said he didn’t start playing basketball for money, and it’s not what drives him now.

“I play for the love of it, not for getting a shoe deal. It’s a part of who you are as a person,” West said after Game 2. “The NBA is such a long season. As you get through this thing you realize that having a shot to win and being where guys prepare to win every single night is rare. And at this stage of my career, this is what I want to be a part of.”

West, now in his 14th NBA season, didn’t just sacrifice money. By going to the uber-talented Warriors, he knew he would be giving up playing time and shots.

“I’ve done all that,” said West, who played a career-low 12.6 minutes a game this season and averaged 4.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists. “So now it’s just about the day-to-day grind, the right environment, and just having a group of guys who are focused on the same goal.”

West is often the third center in the Warriors’ big-man rotation, which includes starter Zaza Pachulia and backup JaVale McGee. But the “skilled, savvy veteran,” in the words of Warriors coach Steve Kerr, has carved out a role as an efficient shooter and sharp passer, and West often plays when Golden State sends out its reserves to start the second and fourth quarters.

In Game 2 against the Spurs, West made all three of his shots and added five assists and two blocks. He also guarded Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge as the Warriors outscored the Spurs by 13 points in West’s 14 minutes. He followed that with six points, four rebounds and five assists in 18 minutes in Game 3.

West has earned $90 million during his career, according to Basketball Reference. Still, his decision to surrender $11 million last season and sign with the Spurs instead of the Pacers was a rare one. After the Spurs lost in the conference semifinals, West jumped to the Warriors last summer, just days after Kevin Durant made his decision to come to the Bay Area.

“He was wonderful,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s a class act. He’s a contemplative guy. He thinks about things. Beyond basketball, it’s fun to be around him to talk about social situations. We’d share that sort of thing. As a player, he’s in the perfect system. They’ve got the big guys out on the court and passing and everybody’s running splits and back door and slipping, and he’s a good passer. If you get off, he can shoot the shot. So I’m happy for him in that situation. We hated to lose him.”

According to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, West has played the third-most playoff games without reaching the NBA finals among active players (94), behind only Joe Johnson and Kyle Korver. The closest that the Xavier product came was in 2013, when his Pacers team lost to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

West seems to be closer than ever now, even though James and the defending champion Cavaliers are still looming.

“A lot of things have to come together,” West said. “To advance is hard. Energy’s got to be right, chemistry’s got to be right, everybody’s focus has got to be right. It takes a lot.”