March 28, 2011

The irony is almost as painful as the injury.

Hornets two-time all star David West will be the first to admit his game is not an above the rim, cant wait to see it on Sports Center, can you believe what he just did kind of skill set.

West has always been the undersized big man with a below the rim game. A 6-9 forward with a deadly mid-range jump shot. One of the best pick and pop big men in the game. A talented, tough-minded, clutch, late-game performer who fell under the radar in one of the most ballyhooed draft classes of the past decade. A star whose preference is to lead by example, but whos not afraid to speak his mind in the locker room. One of the most consistent players in a league full of inconsistent players.

So, when he drove the left baseline in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 24th, elevated, and threw down a monster game-tying dunk with 22.5 seconds remaining in the Fourth quarter of a crucial playoff race game it was horrifying to hear and see what happened next.

Wests left knee buckled following the dunk and he crumbled to the floor screaming,
Im done.

The subsequent diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Season over.

It is one of the few times in his 8-year NBA career I can recall West attempting an acrobatic, flying, flush. And it will cost him the rest of this season and a lengthy rehab.

It was a terrifying moment in a Hornets season full of enough ups and downs to qualify as a carnival ride. Still, this 2010-2011 squad, built on character, resolve, and toughness refuses excuses and has already pulled out two dramatic comeback victories in their fallen co-captains absence.

The injury costs the Hornets a lot more than their leading scorer (18.9 ppg). West is also second on the team in assists (164), rebounds (7.6rpg), blocked shots (62), field goal pct (.508), and free throws attempted and made. Not to mention his leadership, experience, and chemistry with star point guard Chris Paul.

What West provides is irreplaceable this season; but, as head coach Monty Williams said, We cant re-invent D-West. Carl (Landry) has to be Carl. Other guys have to step up. That NBA logo on your chest means you can play.

If the Hornets hold on to one of the precious eight Western Conference playoff seeds this indeed will be a special end to a unique regular season.

Wests ties to New Orleans are also special. He was the first 1st round draft pick by the franchise in the Big Easy in 2003. In a draft that featured LeBron, Carmelo, D-Wade, and Bosh, West survived until the 18th pick and has gone on to make two all-star teams.

The former Xavier (OH) standout and College Player of the Year has endured an 18-win season (2004-2005), four coaching changes (including this season), a two-year temporary relocation to Oklahoma City, an agonizing Second Round Playoff Game 7 home loss to San Antonio, and a near total restructuring of both front office and team over the past summer. And did you ever hear one negative, public comment from David?

Of course not.

He is the consummate professional. He is the lunch pail, blue collar guy with star ability. He is the articulate, deep thinker who has never been shy about his thoughts on subjects ranging from boxing to music to politics. He once spoke to me about the impact of meeting future President Barak Obama during a team preseason game. He told me how happy he was that his children could dream of opportunity, including becoming President of the United States.

Number 30 is now 30. Hes at a bit of a crossroads not just because of the injury but also with the opportunity of becoming a free agent this summer. He is under contract for one more season, but could opt out of the final year of his deal he has earned that right as an NBA veteran. I might remind you that he has already signed one contract extension as a Hornet, a deal that helped become one of the most successful players in franchise history:

POINTS 2ND (8,690) SEASONS 3RD (8) FG ATTEMPTS 2ND (7,091)
REBOUNDS 2ND (3,853) GAMES 3RD (530) FT ATTEMPTS 2ND (2,027)
BLOCKS 3RD (435) DEF REB 2ND (2,743) FT MADE 2ND (1,701)
FG MADE 2ND (3,487)

His legacy extends into the amateur ranks as well. Earlier this season his collegiate jersey #30 was officially retired by Xavier University. In typical D-West fashion he chose not to send out press releases or seek out interviews for recognition. Instead, the modest star chose to keep things under the radar, even requesting that CST not use the video that been made of the event for a Hornets telecast. We honored the request, out of respect for a guy who with few exceptions is always available to the media after games during the season.

West often credits his college coach, the late Skip Prosser, for identifying his talent and basically saving his playing career by giving him a final chance to take the classroom seriously enough to stay eligible early in college. Indeed, Prosser helped mold one of the most well rounded players in the NBA.

Sometimes its difficult to fully understand the value of something until its lost. In the case of David West, its safe to say the Hornets have always known he is a gem on and off the court. Now Monty Williams must go mining down his bench, in search of a collection of players who can fill the enormous void left by a very special player.

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