Delonte West yields 3-for-1 value

DALLAS -- Delonte West showed up in Dallas with some dirty, beat-up basketball shoes and a reputation that was in just about as rough a shape.

West was the guy with bipolar disorder who spent last season on house arrest.

He was the one hit with felony firearm charges after his bizarre arrest -- which happened after police discovered three guns on him, including a shotgun in a guitar case strapped on his back, after pulling him over while he drove a three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder down the Beltway in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

With less than a month remaining before the playoffs, West should be known as one of the NBA's best bargains.

"I'm trying to make a statement and show this team that I want to be here more than just this year," said West, whose shoes were symbolic of his status as an NBA outcast, a guy who worked out on blacktops instead of being invited to the cool kids' charity games during the lockout.

There are plenty of numbers to prove what an excellent value West has been to the Dallas Mavericks, who are 19-12 when he plays and 11-11 when he doesn't. He's making the veteran's minimum of $1.1 million and averaging 8.5 points, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals in 22.3 minutes per game, providing quality play at both guard spots, as a starter and off the bench.

Forget the numbers for a moment, though. Here's all you need to know about how much West means to the defending NBA champions: He's helped make up for the loss of three important members of the Mavs' title-run rotation.

When the Mavs signed West after training camp had already begun, they hoped he could be a blend of J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson. That seemed wildly optimistic for the Mavs to think they could get Barea's ability to penetrate, score and run the point and Stevenson's rugged edginess and defensive excellence in one minimum-wage package, but West has more than fulfilled expectations.

The fact that the 6-foot-3 West has helped fill the void left by 7-1 Tyson Chandler has to be considered a huge bonus.

That certainly isn't an X's and O's deal, although West joked that he's willing to be the backup center if asked, an exaggerated way of emphasizing his whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude. This is all about the intangibles for West, whose popularity among the Mavs was evident by his teammates' and coach's enthusiastic participation in his charity poker tournament Sunday night.

It's no secret that Chandler served as the butt-kicking, in-your-face type of leader the Mavs had lacked. When the Mavs were in the midst of their post-All-Star break funk and Chandler's Knicks happened to be in town, I asked around the locker room about whether the Mavs had anyone take over that role this season.

"Delonte West is that guy for us," said Jason Terry, answering in about the time it typically takes him to launch an open jumper and lamenting that others had to step up while West recovered from a fractured right ring finger.

How did a guy making the minimum establish that sort of respect in a locker room loaded with ring-owning veterans so quickly?

"He's one of the toughest guys pound per pound in the league," Terry said. "Now, you can look at Jason Kidd the same way, but you've got to piss him off first. [West] comes in fists flying and he's ready. You don't have to rev him up. He's ready from the get-go."

You don't get much more ready from the get-go than West's return from his gruesome injury, in which the bone popped out of his skin and zigged and zagged after he tried to make a steal Feb. 15 against the Nuggets.

West played eight chip-off-the-rust minutes in Thursday night's loss to the Miami Heat, hitting all three of his shots despite at times feeling like lightning was hitting his surgically repaired digit. He followed that up with the epitome of a gutty, gritty performance, replacing Kidd for the entire fourth quarter in the comeback win over the Orlando Magic.

West finished that game with 15 points and five assists, including seven points and two dimes in the fourth quarter while locking down Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. He drilled a critical 3-pointer and knocked down a pair of free throws in the final minutes.

"Yeah, he's got some, um, stones," said Dirk Nowitzki, quite a compliment from one of the league's elite clutch player who had just hit the game-winning bucket off the glass.

West has a mix of stones, skills and swagger, a blend of some of the best attributes of Barea, Stevenson and Chandler. West is to the Mavs' roster what those old kicks he wore during his first day in Dallas were to his feet.

There might be some blemishes, but the fit couldn't be better.