LAS VEGAS — There remains the hunger to return to the NBA, with a clear mind and positive outlook, invigorated by fatherhood, finally able to discuss his mental issues without embarrassment.
And the constant on-court chatter during the Clippers’ summer league game Saturday against the Chicago Bulls was proof that Delonte West is at peace and ready for one more run.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave the former Celtic another chance with the summer league invitation, and West, who will turn 31 on July 26, is the old man, comparatively, on a team of hopefuls, understanding that his mentoring and words of advice are just as critical as his performance.
West is seeking a training camp invitation, and there are dozens of scouts who will evaluate his performance over the next week here, so there is pressure to perform. But West doesn’t appear fazed, not after years of losing the battle with mental health issues but finally winning that struggle over the past few years.
He is nothing but smiles. Nothing but positivity.
“The biggest thing personally is just to show teams that any off-the-court issues or things like that are behind me,” said West, who was waived by the Dallas Mavericks in October 2012 after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. “Those things don’t affect what I do on the basketball court. All I am ready to do is play basketball and win games, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the Clippers.”
West flourished during a one-year stint in the Chinese Basketball Association, and he and wife Caressa welcomed their first child, son Cash, last summer. West said fatherhood has had a profound effect on his life, forcing him to mature and encouraging him to seek more structured help for his issues.
There were no glitches during his year with the Fujian Sturgeons, for whom he averaged 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in 33 games. The coaches allowed West to work on his offensive game, going repeatedly with his right (off) hand on pick-and-rolls, considered a weakness.
And he regained the confidence lost after a well-publicized gun-related arrest in 2009, an injury-plagued second stint with the Celtics, and then a disastrous few months with the Mavericks.
“[Fatherhood] has been the biggest blessing in the last few years of my life,” he said. “If I never dribbled another basketball again, I’ve already got my championship. As far as basketball goes, mentally, game-wise, I’m better than I have ever been. As far as my game, I don’t think the NBA paid attention to what I was doing in China. I can’t wait to get out there and show them that aspect.”
When asked about his stint in China, West said, “It’s fun when the coach tells you to go get 50 [points] every night. It was good for me.”
West said it will take about three more weeks of training to get back into basketball shape, and he’s hoping those weeks will include some calls from NBA teams. West, at his best, is a capable backup point guard with a solid midrange jumper, but injuries and off-the-court issues hurt his reputation and damaged his chances of receiving a legitimate shot.
So his performance and behavior at summer league could be critical to his NBA future. He has embraced the role of leader.
“These guys hang on to your every word,” he said. “Guys talking about how they seen you play in college and I think about it, ‘Man, I am just about 10 years older than these guys.’ It’s fun being back out there.”
Some of West’s best NBA times were with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who reached the Eastern Conference finals in both his seasons with the team. West had to deal with rumors that during that time he had a relationship with LeBron James’s mother, Gloria, something he has denied for years. West was pleased when James decided to return to Cleveland.
“I think it’s beautiful,” West said. “I think it was a beautiful decision. His words and statements said it all. There’s no more to it. The man has spoken. I didn’t say LeBron James the dunker and the greatest player in the world, LeBron James the man has spoken and he said some heartfelt words that probably reached all across the world. Not only basketball and the NBA, it’s good for sports and all of humanity. It feels right.”