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KRAVITZ: West opted out because he didn't think he could win a title in Indiana

In an exclusive interview with WTHR.com's Bob Kravitz, David West said he chose free agency because he didn't think he could win a championship in Indiana, not this year, and not in the near future.
David West

There are a number of reasons, both big and small, why David West opted out of a contract that would have paid him $12.6 million to play this coming season for the Pacers, but this was the biggest one:

He didn't think he could win a championship in Indiana, not this year, and not in the near future.

"At this point in my career, I just want to win," West told WTHR.com in an exclusive interview Wednesday night. "I'm just not sure the Pacers are in title contention right now. I'm going into my 13th season. I'll be 35 soon. When I got to Indiana, there was hope of getting there and we played at a really high level for a couple of years. But I just don't know if the team is in the position to win right now and I didn't know if I'd have that opportunity to win a title if I'd stayed with the Pacers."

When this past season ended – and it was a season he described as "the longest, most emotionally draining year of my career" – he was relatively open-minded about his return. But then for the first time in several years, he watched the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, something he hadn't done in recent years "because I always felt like we should have been there." And soon, he got to talking to his agent and his family about his station in life. Along the way, he reached some conclusions: He's in the final chapter of his career and cares more about winning than a $12 million contract to stay in Indiana. And he doesn't feel Indiana is ready to make any great leap forward, despite the fact that Paul George is expected to return to full health sometime next season.

"At this point in my career, it's all about winning, and again, I don't want to be in a position where we're just fighting to make the playoffs, I want to be in a spot where we can legitimately taste the finals," West said.

Then there was this: You remember the post-season postmortem when Larry Bird all but begged Roy Hibbert to opt out of the final year of his contract? West was watching. West was listening. And West was seething. He thought it was a low-class move by the organization to, in his words, "throw Roy under the bus."

"That's one thing where I wish they would have handled better was the situation with Roy," West said. "I'll be honest with you, that bothered me a little bit, and I told Roy that. I'm the type of guy who feels like we're all in this fight together and I'm not designed in that way to put it all on one guy. That did rub me the wrong way. That threw me off. I started reading some of that stuff, I started thinking, 'Whoaa.' I just didn't feel good about that. I told Roy that it bothered me, that he's still my teammate.

"You know, obviously Roy wants to play, he knows he's unpopular right now, but we talked and he's going to be a professional. He's always been a professional. He's had his ups and downs but he's always been a pro and been diligent about his work. He's working to get better. He's going to fight. He's not going to be one of those guys who's going to become a locker room issue.

"But that was not the straw that broke the camel's back.

"I just watched those finals, and I thought, 'Man, I've got to give myself a chance.' That's the reason I made this decision.‘'

West said he's heard from a handful of teams interested in his services, but wouldn't specify which ones. He's probably looking at less annual money, albeit a longer-term deal, to play for a contender, but if it was all about money, he would have gone to Boston several years ago rather than choosing to join the Pacers.

"Absolutely, it was not a financial decision, and that's what so perplexing to people," West said. "I just want an opportunity to win it all. We tried it in Indiana a couple of years; I was really, really disappointed when Paul got hurt, but I just felt like the window was slammed shut. I had some opportunities when I could have been traded last year, but I said no, I wasn't going to abandon the guys like that. I'm not built that way. I stuck it out."

West also cleared up the apparent confusion over when he opted out. On draft night, Bird insisted that he hadn't yet heard from either Hibbert or West or their representatives, even going so far as to say he expected both to opt in. When some of us in the media persisted asking about West, Bird, who enjoys tweaking us just for fun, said, "Anybody else got any stupid questions??" then pointed to the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner, who last week broke the news that West was opting out. "C'mon, Candace, I know you've got some (dumb questions) in you."


Here's West on that subject:

"We wanted to be respectful so I had my agent tell the organization two, three days before the draft that we were going to opt out of the final year of the contract," West said. "I felt doing it post-draft wouldn't be the right thing to do."

So, um, somebody fudged the truth, and I'm not betting that it's West.

West said he is leaving with only warm memories of the Pacers organization and the city he made home.

"When I got here, the organization and everybody welcomed me, coming in off an injury, they didn't know one way or the other about me, but everybody, the players, the city, we so welcoming," he said. "I really appreciate all the support I got and the support we got as a team during my time there. I still remember in my second year when Danny (Granger) got hurt and it was time for Paul (George) to stand up, that was one of the fastest years I've ever experienced, like it went by in a flash. I'll just always have special memories, obviously the conference finals experiences, watching our younger guys grow and develop. We enjoyed our time. There's no ill will at all. Sometimes you've got to make a tough decision and move on."