Say It Ain’t So, Jerry West: How Mr. Laker Became a Warrior

Jerry West
Being Jerry West, he got restless about 10 minutes into retirement, surprising everyone by going to work for the Memphis Grizzlies… because they asked. Of course, the Griz also offered the usual king’s ransom. Not that they didn’t get their money’s worth. The Griz, whose record for wins was 23 when West arrived, won 50-45-49 in his third, fourth and fifth seasons. Unfortunately, they went 0-12 in three playoff appearances, which felt even worse to West than watching—or driving around, listening on radio because he was too stressed to watch—the Lakers win the 2000 title in his last season.

West retired again in 2007. If he remained close to Jerry Buss, and closer to his protege, Mitch Kupchak, any advice he gave them was on an informal basis. In other words, it wasn’t his place to tell them anything they didn’t want to hear.

When the two-time defending champions began to show their age in the 2010-11 season, West broke the news to Orange County car dealers in a speaking appearance. Why didn’t Buss put West back on the payroll for whatever it took for his invaluable perspective?

Got me.

Probably, Buss didn’t think they had to. West was well off and available on a friendly basis. And Jim Buss was now in the loop. I tweeted the West angle while watching Game 2 of the Warriors-Spurs series.

Of course, the response centered on Jimbo’s disinclination to hire him.

Actually, it was more up to the father than the son, with Jerry still in charge in those years. Jim didn’t officially take over until 2011—after the Warriors added West–taking the lead role in the hiring of Mike Brown.

Jerry Buss’s legacy is so sterling, it’s hardly an attack to note that he didn’t get them all right. Nevertheless, Jim didn’t appoint himself. Jerry did that. Jerry may have thought that having West around, even in a merely advisory capacity, would crowd Jim out. Or it may not have occurred to Jerry at all.

The Lakers were doing fine, appearing in three Finals and winning two titles from 2008-2010.

Kupchak had turned the team around in his own right after Shaq’s departure in 2004, getting Andrew Bynum with a No. 10 pick in 2005, acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008.

Curry was there when West signed on in 2011, if no one else who’s now of consequence. If it’s hard to tell who gets credit for what, there’s no way West’s involvement didn’t help. Actually, West was still giving the Lakers advice in a way.

When Jim Buss fell for Brown in their sitdown at the pre-draft camp in Minneapolis, the Lakers knew he was West’s pick to fill the Warriors’ vacancy. That was why they slammed the deal home so quickly, and why the price got to $4.5 million a year, more than they’re paying Mike D’Antoni.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, Brown was either a victim of circumstances, or proof that West doesn’t get them all right, either.

Of course, Mark Jackson, the coach the Warriors hired, has worked out nicely.

Hey, nothing is forever. As long and as storied as West’s Laker career was, like that of Shaq & Kobe, it ended too soon.


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