The collective attention of most NBA fans is currently on the NBA Finals. However, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers are focusing their attention on some recent news regarding one of the most respected front office executives in the league.
That would be Jerry West, who made news earlier this week after having met with the Clippers to discuss the potential of him joining the club’s front office.
“I will tell you I had a very intriguing meeting with the Clippers,” Jerry West said earlier this week. “Steve Ballmer is going to be a sensational owner. But I’m 79 years old and I know how much that I value the game of basketball. I know what it’s done for me and I’m still really competitive. I’m just not so sure that anywhere is a good fit for me.”
News of West’s meeting with Ballmer should excite Clippers fans, especially those who are familiar with the roster construction issues that have plagued the team for the past few seasons.
In recent years, under the leadership of head coach and team president Doc Rivers, the Clippers have traded away several draft picks in attempts to either clear cap space or acquire veterans they thought could be difference-makers in the postseason (such as Jeff Green). The Clips even traded a first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics in June of 2013 to acquire Rivers (who was still under contract with Boston) to replace Vinny Del Negro as the team’s head coach.
Rivers and the Clippers have also drafted several players who have failed to make any sort of impact on the court and failed to show any signs of development or future upside, such as Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox. They now have a shortage of future draft picks and won’t have a first or second round pick in the upcoming draft. However, the Clippers did acquire Austin Rivers from the Boston Celtics in the middle of the 2014-15 season in exchange for their 2017 second-round pick. That turned out to be a very good deal for Los Angeles.
The Clippers’ collective mindset has been to acquire veteran players on affordable contracts rather than prioritizing draft picks and player development. This has left Rivers with a roster that has featured top-end talent in players like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but with only a few solid role players and little else. While the Clippers have made some changes in their front office over the last year or so, the team is still in need of someone who can keep a proper perspective of the team’s short term and long term goals. That’s where West could come in.
West has made quite a legacy for himself as a front office executive. From signing Shaquille O’Neal and trading for Kobe Bryant, to helping to build the Memphis Grizzlies and the current version of the Warriors, West has established himself as one of the league’s best roster architects. He’s also obviously a good salesman, having been instrumental in helping to convince Kevin Durant to sign with Golden State.
West has yet to make a decision about joining the Clippers and admitted that he has thought about returning to the Lakers over the years.
“Sometimes, I thought that in my life that maybe that might be something that I can revisit, or they would want me to revisit,” West said of a return to the Lakers. “But that didn’t happen. At times, I don’t say I was disappointed, but it kind of sent me a message that they wanted to go elsewhere, which is fine. But to say that I wouldn’t have liked to have ended my career there, that wouldn’t necessarily be true either.”
With the Lakers recently installing Magic Johnson and his hiring of Rob Pelinka, it seems unlikely that adding West is in the immediate plans.
So why would West want to leave an incredibly talented team that he helped to build? The first reason is West has already demonstrated he likes the challenge of building up a team that is in need of improvement. In 2002, West came out of retirement to join the Grizzlies, a team that was in need of significant help at the time. Consider what West said when the Grizzlies announced that he would be joining the franchise.
“I decided to end my retirement and join the Grizzlies for three reasons,” said West. “One, this opportunity gives me a challenge to do something unique. After being a part of the Lakers success for so many years, I have always wondered how it would be to build a winning franchise that has not experienced much success. I want to help make a difference. Two, who you work for makes a huge difference in enjoying your job, and I have been so impressed with Mike (Heisley). He wants to win so much and is committed to creating a winner for Memphis. And three, retirement is not what I thought it would be. Watching NBA games in the last year has rekindled my interest, and I am excited again about being involved in basketball – something that I love to do so much.”
Additionally, West is an old-school competitor and has shown in the past that he is most interested and engaged when he is building a team, rather than basking in the glory of a juggernaut he helped to construct.
“I don’t like parity,” West said. “I don’t like the word parity. Parity is average, and I like to see excellence. But I also like competition. I read the newspaper cover to cover every morning, and even though I don’t bet, I look at the lines in Las Vegas. We were underdogs in one game this year. We were favored in Game 2 of the conference finals by 15 points. That is insane. It’s not what anybody wants to see. At the end of the third quarter [when the Warriors led 106–75], I almost felt bad for San Antonio, but I also felt bad for our fans. Because if you’re a real fan at a playoff game, you want to see a hard-fought battle, back and forth, and at the end somebody wins by a point and you go home worn out. You’re charged. You’re edgy. But we’re up by 30-something, and I’m thinking, ‘Hmm, I’d like to leave here if I could.’ It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve never felt that way before.”
The Clippers are at a major crossroad. Paul and Griffin, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents on July 1, have the option to sign on with other teams. But even if the Paul and Griffin choose to give it another shot with the Clippers, the team has little cap flexibility to make other improvements, few future draft assets and a void of young talent to develop.
West has the experience, knowledge and vision to help steer the Clippers in the right direction. Whether that involves retooling the same roster of the last few seasons or making sweeping changes from top to bottom, he has proven himself to be one of the best in the business at building a championship worthy team. Now he just needs to agree to take on the challenge.
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