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What Does West Do Now?

A week ago I gave you a list of reasons why David West would exercise his opt-out option in the final year of his contract, enabling him to explore free agency. As a matter of fact, I said you could count on it. Since then, West tore his ACL during a heroic performance on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Before sorting through West’s options moving forward, let me begin by saying I am sorry for David West. The man has been the one constant of the Hornet franchise since their move to New Orleans. He and New Orleans Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb are the longest tenured professional athletes in the state of Louisiana. West has been a textbook representative for how to be a professional. His work ethic is second to none, and his approach to the game of basketball makes him a poster child for what a coach wants in a player.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

David was in the midst of the best season of his career. Not only was David leading the Hornets in scoring. The team captain was second on the team in assists, rebounds, field goal percentage, free throws, and blocks. The consummate professional was putting the final touches on a terrific resume before headlining a weak 2011 free agent class. In other words, it was setting up nicely for David to get a hefty, and much deserved, payday. That all changed in a single, terrifying moment last Thursday night in Salt Lake City when David tore his ACL. The timing could not have been worse. Aside from his financial prospects taking a hit, West is an ultra competitor. Now, the co-captain must watch his team as they fight for a precious playoff spot.

“It’s just a tough time. The last couple of steps to the season, it’s not the time. You just can’t plan on something like this to happen,” said West.

Now, with a torn ACL, West will have reconstructive surgery, followed a lengthy rehab. Doctors have advised West the rehabilitation process could take anywhere from 6 to 10 months. I have no doubt that West will tackle rehab with the same fervor he brings to the hardwood.

“I’m just going to do everything I can to get myself back and be stronger and really take care of this injury,” explained West. “I don’t want this to be something that hampers me for the rest of my career. I just plan on beating it…I just plan on taking a fighter’s mentality with this thing and trying to beat it,” added West. “Let the chips fall where they may after that.”

That’s the question. Where do the chips fall? Does David opt-out, and enter free agency? Does he consider an extension from the Hornets? Or does he decide not to exercise his opt-out clause and remain with the Hornets on the last year of his contract at $7.5 million? A week ago it was a no-brainer. Today, any option is a possibility.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Let’s start with the possibility that he decides to opt-out. The free agent class is anemic, and although West may not be ready for the start of the regular season, he has done nothing in his career to suggest he can’t recovery from a torn ACL. West’s skill set as a two-time all-star power forward is predicated on his jump shooting ability, and terrific ballhandling. David has never been a leaper, nor has he relied on quickness. This bodes well for his recovery prognosis. However, GMs will still use West’s injury as a bargaining chip to drive down the price of a potential contract. Another deterrent to opting out is the NBA’s uncertain economic future. The current collective bargaining agreement expires the last day of June.

Another option for West is to open back up discussions with the Hornets on a contract extension. David stated early in the year that he did not want to discuss a contract extension during the season, preferring to wait until season’s end. Why not listen to any offers from the only team he’s ever played for? Simple. The most Dell Demps and New Orleans could offer West was based on a 10% raise from the $7.5 million West would make in 2011-12. That’s about $8.25 million to start. A healthy David West would make more than that in free agency. It should be noted that the Hornets can offer more than a 10% raise once West becomes a free agent. As we all know, the NBA’s financial future is in question. Couple that with the reality of David’s injury, and West may be tempted to sign a deal that guarantees him currency. Granted, it isn’t the currency David and his agent were probably expecting before last Thursday, but it isn’t chump change either.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

One other option for West is to not opt-out, and play the final year of his contract at $7.5 million. Common sense would tell you this option was improbable prior to the injury. But now, it certainly is feasible. David can rehab the knee, return during the 2011-2012 season, and prove to the league he’s healthy. Then he, along with his close friend and teammate Chris Paul, can explore free agency in 2012. There is risk involved. Possible setbacks in rehab, or God forbid, another serious injury, could hamper West’s financial prospects even more.

David briefly spoke to reporters last Friday about his offseason options, citing his uncertainty in regards to his contract situation.

“I just don’t know. My focus now is to get post-surgery and see how my body is responding,” said West. “Hopefully, there are no surprises or anything. Then I’ll deal with my contract in the same time frame in terms of what I was going to do before. I’ll just see what’s out there. When I get healthy, it may make me change in terms of my thinking. From a confidence standpoint, it might change.”

In the end, David will do what’s best for him and his family. Right now, that’s the most clear option he has.

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