Eric Patten, Clippers.com


LAS VEGAS – He had that same smooth gait, the same unmistakable drawl that’s not quite mid-South or Maryland but something in between, something all his own.

Delonte West, the soon-to-be 31-year-old, looked virtually the same as he did when his best days as a combo guard alongside LeBron James in Cleveland made him an almost household name.

But for West, who is making a comeback attempt after last appearing in the NBA during the lockout-shortened season with the Dallas Mavericks, things are quite different. Gone, he says, are the off-the-court “issues” that derailed his career. And his game is more refined.

“Organizations pretty much know my game, but over the last year or two I’ve added some things that can elevate [me] or things that were holding me back in the past basketball-wise that I’ve tightened up,” West said following the Clippers’ Summer League opener in Las Vegas on July 12. “The biggest thing personally is just to show teams that any off the court issues and things like that are behind me and don’t affect what I’m doing on the basketball court.”

On the court in his week-plus with the Clippers that has included two games and a four-day minicamp in Los Angeles, West has taken to being a leader.

“It’s actually kind of fun,” West said. “It’s almost like being a player-coach out there. Some of the young guys hang on to your every word. Some of them have seen you play in college and you think about it and you’re like, ‘Man, I am 10 years older than a lot of these guys.’ It has been fun for me, personally, getting my tone back up, getting in shape. But working with the guys and repeating what the coaches are saying and when we’re on the floor seeing it grow on the floor as we’re going is a blessing to see and I know it can help the organization out.”

It was obvious at shootaround Monday, when West was working with rookie free agent Cameron Clark, showing him how to use a reverse pivot at the elbow to earn space and survey the floor. Watching West a few hours later, as the Clippers took on the Miami Heat at Thomas & Mack Center, there was a sense that time in China and more time away from the game had served him well. West was refreshed.

When he scored three baskets in a row, including a twisting 3-point play at the rim, Tom Thibodeau and Flip Saunders, who were sitting next to Doc Rivers courtside, said they were surprised West still had it. But Rivers had an idea a few weeks ago when his former player called him to discuss joining the Summer League squad.

“He called me up and said, ‘Coach, this is Delonte. Do you have any problem playing on the Summer League team? It will help me.’ And I said, ‘Yes,’” Rivers said. “He’s a good guy. He really is. We know all the personal stuff he’s gone through and I think [him playing] is good. It’s good for everybody.”

The leadership part of it has stood out the most, perhaps. West, who injured his ankle Tuesday and sat out the majority of the second half, remained engaged. He was imploring teammates, that same drawl echoing through Cox Pavilion.

“He has been absolutely fantastic,” Clippers Summer League coach Brendan O’Connor said. “I haven’t been around him, so I can’t speak to who he was before. But he’s actually been a huge leader here, talking about it’s all about playing hard and playing together and doing the right thing. I think for him he’s taking a different look at it. He’s at that stage in his career where he’s trying to help out some of the younger guys.”

For West, the journey towards a comeback attempt has been tireless. He said his game and personal life both needed to improve to make it possible.

“Little things like using the pick-and-roll and able to make plays going to the right side of the basket using my right hand,” West said. “I’m pretty much a good jump shooter going to my right, but I think the restriction for me was making plays going to my right with the right [hand]. Other than that, I guess the mental aspect has been holding me back. The last two years, my family and life has been great and exciting and the growth has brought me to this point.”

And Rivers, who coached West for four seasons in Boston, thinks the comeback is nearly complete, whether it is with the Clippers or another organization.

“I think we all knew he could play,” Rivers said. “But I think it’s good for people to see it again. I think he’s in a great place in his life. [He has] a baby. He’s just doing very well in his life. I think because his life is well his basketball is good.

“I think the next steps are teams, including us, are looking at him and I think he’ll get a lot of interest.”