I can’t say this decision was unexpected, but it was by no means a sure thing which still makes it pretty difficult to stomach. Hornets’ forward David West has decided that the smartest decision for him is to opt out of the $7.5 million guaranteed to him for next season and see what he can get in free agency. Coming off of ACL surgery, this is somewhat of a risk on his part, but I don’t think it is as big of a risk as some are making it seem, and that is why I understand the move from his perspective. Even if no new team ends up offering him a long-term deal because of the injury, one of two things will happen. Either A) he signs a short-term deal worth, at worst, slightly less than he is making now (I’m thinking around 2 years/$12 million range) or B) the Hornets re-sign him for an extended deal that no other team would touch due to the injury. Either way, the potential reward greatly outweighs any risks associated with opting out in my opinion, so this really shouldn’t come as a big shock to anyone.
The obvious subsequent topic in this inevitable chain of events is addressing the odds that West remains a Hornet. Many people may think this move spells doom for his career in New Orleans, but I don’t see it that way. From a financial perspective, the Hornets own West’s bird rights, which (in a nutshell) gives the team increased flexibility compared to the rest of the NBA when it comes to contract negotiations. From a basketball perspective, the two teams who have shown the most interest thus far are Indiana and New Jersey. When discussing his decision to opt out, West stated “At this point in my career, I want to win, and I want to win big,” and I just don’t think that either of those two previously mentioned teams provide a better opportunity to win than he currently has here in New Orleans. Among the top title contenders, SBNation’s Tom Ziller makes a great point that the vast majority of them are either too far over the salary cap or already possess solid options at the power forward position. Plain and simple, the viable alternatives for West outside of New Orleans simply do not provide clear advantages over the Hornets, giving the team as good a chance as anyone to sign him.
Although I like the Hornets’ chances of retaining West, the possibility of him walking still bears mentioning, and more importantly, the future of the team should he head elsewhere. Unfortunately, if that future comes to fruition, it could very well be catastrophic for New Orleans. No matter what he decides, it’s essentially a guarantee that it will be a decision that he will have discussed extensively with Chris Paul before he makes it. While I don’t think Paul is a lock to remain a Hornet if West sticks around, I do think that if West leaves, CP3 is as good as gone when his contract expires one year from now. We all know how much CP3 wants to win, and the brutal reality is that between the lack of talent among the rest of the free agent class and the limitations on the Hornets’ current trade assets, there is almost no way to make the team as good or better without David West than it would be with D-West in the near future. Therefore, unless CP3 and Dwight Howard are having LeBron/Wade/Bosh-esque secret meetings, we can likely assume Paul’s days as a Hornet are numbered the second West signs with another squad. My point? I truly believe that if D-West leaves, the Hornets have no choice but to trade Chris Paul. I really, really, REALLY hope that David makes this a non-issue by re-signing, but if he doesn’t, it’s a reality that the team will have no choice but to face, much like the Jazz did last offseason with Deron Williams (and made out like bandits in their trade).
Should the previously described scenario become reality, there is somewhat of a silver lining with West opting out now. Let’s say he had decided instead to play out the last year of his contract, collecting the $7.5 million and becoming a free agent at the same time as Paul next offseason. Now let’s say they both get together and decide “this isn’t the right situation for us, we’re done in New Orleans.” Well… um, crap. Now the Hornets are without their two best players and have absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m not even going to get into what that could potentially mean for the team in New Orleans, but suffice it to say that it wouldn’t be good. With West opting out now, even if he decides to leave, at least that gives the Hornets the chance to assess the future and direction of the team (and by that, I largely mean the chance to sit down with CP3 and say “if you don’t plan on sticking without West here, we have no choice but to look to trade you” or something along those lines.) Let me reiterate my belief that the Hornets still have a great shot to keep West; my point is just that if he chooses to leave, then him opting out now puts the team in a MUCH better situation than if he were to wait and leave New Orleans after next season.
So there you have my thoughts on the Hornets’ most recent dilemma on their hands. This is a fairly controversial topic, so we’d love to hear what our readers have to say either on our facebook page or in the comments below.