One year ago, the Los Angeles Clippers surprised many, especially Los Angeles Lakers fans, by signing Hall of Famer Jerry West to join the team’s front office. On Tuesday, the NBA’s Draft Lottery will take place with West serving as the team’s representative. Based on the current odds, the team is projected to have the 12th and 13th pick in the draft. Should those odds hold, the team will have two mid-first round picks at their disposal heading into the offseason.
The Clippers enter a second offseason guided by the experienced hand of West. Remember, when West joined the Clippers, the organization was facing a crossroads with the impending unrestricted free agency of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Re-signing both would be costly for the team. Losing both, with no compensation in return, would have decimated the team as well. After making the playoffs but falling short of the Western Conference Finals for six straight years with a roster that had seemed to have already peaked, the team had to make hard choices.
Speaking on behalf of the front office during last year’s offseason, Clippers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank discussed trying to keep Paul and Griffin.
“We were doing everything to try and keep them [Paul and Blake] and you’re ready, its more than two and three scenarios. It’s like 56 scenarios,” Frank stated.
Ultimately, the team was able to trade Paul to the Houston Rockets in exchange for quality players and assets while re-signing Griffin in an attempt to remain competitive and build up the roster around the edges. West and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, recently spoke with Marc Stein of the New York Times, providing additional insight into the team’s front office.
“Lawrence [Frank] and I text each other two or three times a day,” West said.
While the team failed to make the playoffs this season, they were again able to make a shocking trade to benefit the franchise long term. Unfortunately, to do so meant taking the opportunity to trade fan favorite Griffin only a few months after having convinced him to re-sign a new multi-year contract. Doing so allowed the team to stave off being locked into a salary cap nightmare while also receiving value in return, specifically forward Tobias Harris and the Piston’s first-round pick.
“Don’t be afraid to make that tough decision if you need to,” Ballmer stated, repeating what West had previously said.
Now the team faces the familiar prospect of losing a star player, center DeAndre Jordan, who can either leave this summer, re-sign long-term or exercise his player option to come back for one more year. What to do with Jordan and the team as a whole again looms large. With many decisions to be made, Ballmer made it clear he holds West in high esteem.
“In terms of how to set up a front office, how to think about problems, talent evaluation — Jerry is a superstar,” Ballmer said.
For younger fans of the league, West is best known as a front office guru. He won Executive of the Year for when he was able to trade for Kobe Bryant and sign Shaquille O’Neal. After orchestrating the formation of a Lakers team that would eventually three-peat, West took the job as the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies. With the Grizzlies, he would again be named Executive of the Year. Recently, he helped to form the foundation for the Golden State Warriors before departing and finally taking a job with the Clippers.
Also revealed in Stein’s piece, West became available after he came to realize his influence and standing within the Warriors’ organization declined over time.
“You have to be wanted,” West said.
Leaving the Warriors was probably the most difficult thing for me in my whole life. I didn’t want to leave,” West stated. “It did not end the way I wanted it to, that’s for sure. But this [being in the Clippers front office] is a perfect role for me. People ask me my opinion, and I’m going to give it to them.”
West spoke openly about how well he feels he fits with the Clippers. Shortly before signing with the Clippers last summer, West publicly stated that he might not be a good fit for just any team in the league.
“I’m still really competitive. I’m just not so sure that anywhere is a good fit for me,” West said.
Of course, West did join the Clippers and all signs indicate the fit has been positive as the franchise waits to find out their draft standing and what Jordan decides to do. Whether West can also help to orchestrate some sort of blockbuster move with so many big names constantly being mentioned as possibly available (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James) is yet to be seen. With West, as history shows, anything is possible.
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