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David West And His Contract: The Elephant In The Room

Amidst all the talk about Chris Paul's future with the team, a lot has been not necessarily ignored, but overlooked by the Hornets and their fans.  While the trade of Peja Stojakovic for Jarrett Jack provided immediate and long term cap relief for the team, so much invested in potential space for the team has been given more detail than how much of that space will be used for the current squad. 

Free agents such as Jason Smith, Willie Green and Marcus Thornton are enigmas at the moment and none of their statuses could even begin to be predicted until the end of the year.  However, one potentially major free agent is on the roster and is being asked to consistently produce at a high level nightly for the Hornets.  That player is David West.  Now West is, and should be, a popular figure for the Hornets organization.  He's been with the team since 2003, when the Hornets were actually still in the Eastern Conference, and has emerged with the team- being their main scorer in clutch situations and being rewarded with two All Star game appearances for those efforts. 

But while we've come to expect certain levels of success with West, we've also taken his extremely team friendly contract for granted.  West will almost certainly look to get paid this offseason depending on the ramifications of the new collective bargaining agreement.  The really touchy subject is whether or not the Hornets should accommodate that.

As mentioned earlier, West was the Hornets first round selection (18th overall) in that fantastic 2003 draft class.  After coming along slowly his first two seasons, West's career took off in 2005, the team's first season in Oklahoma City, along with the addition of then rookie Chris Paul.  Since that time, West has either led or been in second in PPG for the Hornets each season.  Armed with a fantastic stroke from 15 feet out, a very keen sense of positioning and a visible willingness to work hard to win, West has rewarded the Hornets time and time again with big time play when the team has needed it.  Even in bleak situations like last season, West improved other areas of his game to accommodate the absence of Paul over the course of the season. 

West's current contract was signed after that 2005/2006 breakout season, and it was a frontloaded deal; meaning that it that paid him more initially and saw a reduction in salary as the years passed.  As a result, the Hornets have gotten all star potential at an already reduced, and further reducing, price.  But questions should still be asked about whether the Hornets should pay West this summer.

For starters, although West is still a consistent contributor, he's nowhere near the player he was during the Hornets' break-out year in 2008 and, at 30 years old, is nowhere near the athlete he was at that time as well.  As a result, his rebounding numbers have decreased at a noticeable rate and his defense has slowed over time.  And while he can still score at an efficient rate and with a high percentage, that slow decline is going to pick up at some point.  Questions have already been asked about whether the Hornets should reward West, but I don't think they should.

As a disclaimer, David West is my favorite player on the Hornets team and is one of my favorite players of all time.  At the same time, from an objective standpoint, the Hornets should not invest a plethora of money into West this offseason.  As harsh as the facts are, the Hornets have gotten great production out of West for the duration of that contract and have exactly one postseason series victory to show for it.  His relationship with Paul and his consistent contributions to the team are attributes you can't statistically measure, but it's in the best interest of the Hornets to look at this from a business standpoint and realize that you simply can't pay him too much money.  As the team has already seen from Peja Stojakovic, the first two years of a large contract may not kill you, but the last few years can certainly cripple you if the player doesn't continue to produce at that initial rate. 

West's contract situation is touchy.  You want to reward a player for what he's done for your franchise.  You also want to see someone play his entire career for your team when he's been with you for so long and has long been a face of the franchise.  There's also a chance that West's offensive game will allow him to be a solid contributor in the future, which is something that could torment Hornets fans if nobody else on the roster steps up.  Let's also face facts, nobody on this team is good enough to replace West as the team's second option.  Without him, this team would severely struggle offensively.  If the Hornets do let West go, that new second option is not on this current roster.

But looking at the state of the franchise and evaluating it from an objective standpoint, West's contract situation can be a bit touchy.  It's an elephant in the room for this entire season that will be avoided if he picks up his seven million dollar option for next season with the team.  However, West should be looking for one last deal to close out his career, and after seeing players like Travis Outlaw and Amir Johnson get paid handsomely this offseason, it's hard to imagine nobody offering West a reasonable salary.  Whether or not the Hornets want to take that next step towards champions should be a huge factor into whether or not they want to match or exceed that unknown salary.