|Free agent Delonte West must decide on returning to the Celtics or signing elsewhere. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)|
Changing of the guard
West tries to alter tarnished image
WASHINGTON - The tweet popped up a little after 3 p.m. yesterday.
“Last day on the job,’’ he wrote.
He was driving one of Regency Furniture’s trucks, and he told his followers he was between deliveries on his way to a dinner interview at Old Ebbitt Grill in the Northwest section.
He parked on 13th Street, oblivious to the midday commotion stirring around the sector orbiting the White House.
“Valet parked that boy,’’ he said.
The truck was a part of Delonte West’s “How I Spent My Lockout’’ experience. But now the NBA lockout is over, and West is a free agent weighing the possibility of returning to the Celtics this season or signing elsewhere.
Over the course of the labor strife that left NBA players without jobs for 149 days, social media was the way players connected with fans. For West, it was a way to let them see who he was beyond the headlines and the rumors - primarily those attached to the gun charges he faced in 2009.
He did an interview over the summer with Slam Magazine explaining the gun charges from his side. He has opened the window to who he is and shed light on the mistakes he has made, hoping that eventually people will move past it all.
“It’s all about the perception that can be embedded in people’s mind from bad decisions I’ve made,’’ said West.
He is comical. He is spontaneous. He is bipolar. He is a felon. He is passionate. He is flawed.
“I’m a real person,’’ he said. “My goal for the summer was repairing the image.’’
His friends pushed him. They knew his personality.
His business manager, Mark Fassett, was in his ear the whole way. But Fassett isn’t a PR agent hired to put makeup on a bad image. He has been West’s friend since high school, his go-to guy.
“The view that everybody had of Delonte was totally opposite of who he is,’’ said Fassett. “The way that people look at him - Crazy Man and the Boogie Man - he’s totally different from that.
“He’s always trying to make you laugh with the littlest things he does. That was my goal this year, just to show everybody that Delonte was different.’’
Over the summer, Fassett made it a point to keep West in the D.C. community. The slate was stuffed: back-to-school charity drive, casino night to raise money for kids in inner-city schools, basketball clinics, regular trips to the Balanced and Restorative Justice Drop-In Center, and even senior citizens’ bingo.
“He was giving money to every one of them,’’ Fassett said. “Every one of them got $20.’’
With no basketball, West had opportunities to drift into other avenues - reality television, music, home improvement - but the current focus is career stability.
West is 28 years old and approaching his ninth NBA season. For the third time, he is a free agent. He’s at a pivotal point.
Ideally, he would like a three-year contract.
“My biggest thing that I haven’t had since I’ve been in the league really is comfort,’’ he said. “I haven’t had anyone say, ‘We actually believe what you can do.’ ’’
He has felt the icy side of the business. He has been traded three times. There were faint traces of stability during his first stint in Boston and early in his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they didn’t last.
After his first three seasons in Boston, he was part of the trade that Danny Ainge swung to land Ray Allen in 2007. But he was joining the Sonics at their most unsettled moment, the franchise on the brink of moving to Oklahoma City. The uncertainty was something West felt again with the lockout.
“You didn’t know what to expect,’’ he said. “Playing that season, that half a season, just not knowing if we were going to leave or go to a different city. Things were in boxes. There wasn’t that settled feeling.’’
The Sonics shipped him to Cleveland in 2008, and the Cavs signed him to a three-year, $12.6 million contract. But after the gun charge and a 2009-10 season in which the Cavaliers posted the league’s best record but fell short of the Finals, he was traded to Minnesota. The Wolves waived him, paying just $500,000 of the money remaining on his deal.
West signed with the Celtics for the minimum last season on a nonguaranteed contract.
“Because I was pulled over, now I’m a league minimum player?’’ West said. “I’m one of those guys that have to keep proving myself over and over again. That’s been the story of my life, and that’s OK.’’
A sixth-man role?
West was arrested in September 2009 for carrying three loaded weapons as he drove a motorcycle around suburban Washington. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to home confinement, though he could travel with his NBA team.
He was signed by the Celtics in September 2010 but had to serve a 10-game NBA suspension at the start of last season.
For the length of the season, he was on house arrest so strict that when he broke his wrist and went to the hospital, his officer said he should have called. He was under such close watch by the Celtics that he was asked to check in multiple times a day.
“But at the same time, that’s all right if that’s what it takes,’’ he said. “You’d be surprised what some people would do to be able to put on an NBA jersey.
“So if had to call four times a day to let my team owner know where I’m at, or if they wanted me to let them know when I got back from Costco, I’m willing to do that.’’
Teams will consider his character. They will also consider his injury history (the suspension plus wrist and ankle injuries limited him to 24 games last season). But they will also have to consider his track record on the floor (9.7-point career scoring average and 3.5 assists) and his playoff history (he averaged double-digit scoring twice for Cleveland in the postseason and reached double figures in all five games of last season’s second-round series against the Heat).
He has an idea where he stands among players around the league.
“I’m in the same category as Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford,’’ he said. “I think my name should be right in that talk. As far as you saying, ‘Let’s get a guy we can put on our bench who can come in and get it done,’ I think I’m right in the same talk with them.’’
The difference is dollars and security. The best basketball of his career came when he was able to focus completely on his play and not worry about the uncertainty. Last season, he hardly had a chance to pull the blinds up in his apartment.
“If I was comfortable somewhere, I’d have no problem being in that sixth man type of talk,’’ he said. “I could be that guy that could be in the Sixth Man of the Year type conversation.’’
He feels like an improved person and a player on the brink. Free agency will begin Dec. 9, and players’ agents were allowed to talk to team officials yesterday.
West wants to find the best opportunity, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.
“Eight years in, I’ve had the young mistakes,’’ he said. “I’ve put those behind me. I’ve shown that I can play this game at a high level, hit the tough shot. I’m ready to go. Wherever fits right.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.