DALLAS -- Delonte West's impressive performances during his first two games since returning from finger surgery underscores exactly how important he is to the Dallas Mavericks.
West is so important, in fact, that if the Mavericks plan on retaining his services beyond this season, owner Mark Cuban might have to write him a much fatter paycheck.
"Everybody on this team that's played with Delonte knew the value of him," center Brendan Haywood said. "He hits big shots, he finds guys when they're open, and he guards.
"He's probably our most complete guard on the team because he does everything well."
West had surgery on his right ring finger, which was fractured during a Feb. 15 game against the Denver Nuggets. The Mavericks were 19-11 when West departed and only 10-11 during his absence.
The feisty guard returned to the lineup during Thursday's 106-85 loss to the Miami Heat and contributed seven points and an assist in only eight minutes while going 3 for 3 from the field.
During Friday's 100-98 victory over the Orlando Magic, West was 5 for 10 from the field, scored 15 points and handed out five assists in 24 minutes. He also hit a 3-pointer that pulled the Mavericks within 97-96. He then buried a pair of free throws to push them ahead 98-97 with 1:10 left in the game.
"Before he got hurt he was playing well," guard Jason Kidd said. "He's been out, I think, six weeks, and he stepped right in and he looks like he's been playing like he's never been gone.
"So it's a big plus for us. It gives us some depth, it gives us some toughness."
West is all about toughness and resiliency, and about hitting the court with a chip on his shoulder. So much so that he never stopped to wonder how much pain he's putting his finger through by playing.
"I had the adrenalin pumping, obviously," West said. "I took a few falls there. On one of them I kind of nipped it a little bit and I felt that. I think I'm slowly but surely getting over the mental part of it, and I'm playing with more and more confidence."
West also is playing for a new contract, since the Mavericks only signed him to a one-year, $1.18 million deal before this season started. Thus, the urgency to get back on the court.
"It's always difficult to sit out, definitely in a contract year," West said. "I'm trying to make a statement and show this team that I want to be here more than just this year."
"So it's always tough when you're missing games. But I'm glad I'm back now, and hopefully and prayfully I don't sustain any more injuries to this finger."
The Mavericks have those same hopes and prayers for West, who is very comfortable playing either of the two backcourt positions.
"I think you [saw Friday] how important Delonte West is to us," coach Rick Carlisle said. "For a guy that's been off five or five-and-a-half weeks, to come in and have this kind of performance, this kind of impact at both ends of the floor, to play basically a 15-minute stretch during the game, you don't see that in a week."
West's presence as a heady facilitator allows the Mavericks to sit Kidd more and not rely too heavily on the youngster -- Rodrigue Beaubois.
"Missing Delonte here the last [six] weeks with a broke finger really hurt us in the backcourt," guard Jason Terry said. "Having that veteran leadership -- a guy that's been there before in big games -- you need it, and he showed you his presence [Friday].
"His energy and his toughness has been something that we've been missing."
West, though, cautioned that he's not completely healthy. There's still some discomfort in the finger. It won't completely heal for another five months, and he is reluctant to go hard with a right-handed dribble.
"I'm still not handling the ball like I want to going to my right," West said. "I had a few driving lanes there during [Friday's] game where I could have took my man to the right. But my mind wasn't letting me do it."
For the Mavericks' sake, they hope West will be able to drive hard to his left and right next season. But that depends on whether Cuban is prepared to cut a rather large check to retain his services.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760