HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Will Delonte West ever play in the NBA again?
It’s a real question and a sad one because West, who turns 30 on Saturday, has all the talent to be a solid rotation player for any team. He’s a willing, snarling defender and a heady offensive threat. His 2011-12 Dallas Mavericks teammates instantly fell in love with him and coach Rick Carlisle backed him at every turn. A gruesome broken finger that required surgery wiped out a chunk of the season and likely prevented him from signing that multiyear deal he so badly desired for a little security after several seasons of playing on one-year, minimum contracts.
And then West went haywire during training camp last year, his insecurity sabotaging a second season with Dallas and now potentially a career that is stalled at eight seasons. West didn’t like the backcourt logjam in Dallas and felt threatened. He acted out. Suspended once for conduct detrimental to the team, a second suspension before the season even started earned him a one-way ticket off a team run by Mark Cuban, one of, if not the most forgiving, player-centric owners in the game.
The Mavs gave up on a player they really needed, but West needs basketball even more and he might never get it back. He is easily the least-talked-about free agent still on the market.
I had been trying for some time to reach West, who has refused to answer phone calls or respond to text messages. Last week, Slam Magazine‘s Tzvi Twerski did roust West from his long media silence. West continues to live in Dallas. He recently got married and the couple is expecting a baby very soon.
In the article, West comes across as self-loathing — not wanting to name the baby Delonte Jr., as family members have suggested, to prevent future harassment in school from his father’s past misdeeds — and he continues to point to his heavily chronicled 2009 arrest while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers as an unfortunate incident that teams refuse to let him escape.
“Before that, coaches and GMs, they said I was a tough, scrappy player,” West told Twerski. “They wanted to go to war with me on their side. Everything after that incident became, ‘did he take his medicine?’ Oh, ‘he’s bipolar.'”
In a sports world prevalent with DWI’s and other mischief, West said the media is also guilty of keeping him trapped under their thumb some four years after the arrest.
“Reporters can’t write a sentence — they can’t write a sentence about even a good game — without mentioning something from four years ago,” West said. “There are plenty of players arrested for DUIs, gun charges, this and that. [Meanwhile], they’ve made me into the Terminator.”
West, who has Bipolar Disorder, who is known for off-the-cuff, often unsavory rants on Twitter, who has financially supported a long list of extended family members for years and who secretly slept in the Mavs’ locker room when he signed in December 2011 because he said he was broke, must take control of his career, end the self-loathing and make smart decisions when opportunities arise.
Toward the end of last season when it was still possible for him to join a team for the stretch run and the playoffs, West signed a contract to play for the Mavs’ D-League affiliate. West hoped it would lead to a reunion with the Mavs, but when Cuban made it known that it would not, West opted not to report to the Texas Legends.
Other clubs wanted to see West back in uniform, but in the D-League first, to gauge his mood and behavior more than the state of his mid-range jumper, to determine the best they could if he was worth the risk of adding to their locker room.
As the Legends waited for him to show up, West was apparently firing his agent. However, differing stories surfaced with his representatives claiming that they were walking away from West because he refused to heed their advice — such as quickly joining the Legends to showcase himself for other NBA teams — and also withheld payment.
When West finally arrived to play for the Legends, it was a moot point. He played eight uninspired games and that was that.
“I had tears in my eyes watching games this past year — not because I’m bipolar, but because I’m sitting at home and miss the game,” West told Twersky. “When my agent calls, I’m going to be on the next flight. Not to be cocky, but some teams that are trying to win are one guard away, one guy that can make a couple great plays away from going to the Finals.
“Well, I’m right here. Y’all know it and I know it.”
Every executive in the NBA knows West can play the game. They just don’t know if they’ll get a stable and productive combo guard for the duration of the season. That’s the real and sad truth.