The perfect match?
A Jerry West-Knicks union could energize both parties
Posted: Monday April 9, 2007 1:10PM; Updated: Monday April 9, 2007 3:50PM
1. What will become of Jerry West?
ANSWER: I've been wrong before (see question No. 2 below) and I may be wrong here, but I think he could wind up running the New York Knicks.
If things don't work out for team president and coach Isiah Thomas over the next year, the Knicks are going to feel obliged to place a call to West. If they do, I think he is going to say yes.
West's contract as Memphis Grizzlies president expires June 30. There are mixed messages about whether he will continue with the franchise as an adviser -- league sources say he will, but one of West's close friends insists that he's ready to move on.
I bring up the Knicks because it is clearly the one franchise that would inspire West to keep working. After four decades in Los Angeles as a player, coach and GM of the Lakers, it was a struggle for West to adapt to Memphis. He feeds on big challenges, he thrives on a fear of failure, and the only market capable of upgrading his L.A. experiences would be New York.
I've heard whispers from people in the league -- and no doubt West has too -- that he's no longer among the best in his profession, based on the Grizzlies' precipitous collapse. But I don't see it that way. This season West has been hamstrung by the on-and-off sale of his team. Just three years ago he was NBA Executive of the Year, a title he earned while upgrading -- after one season in charge -- the league's worst franchise into a playoff team that won 50, 45 and 49 games. No one could have done more with the Grizzlies than West.
The Knicks want to win now. At 68, so would West. At his age, he doesn't have time to waste. A move to New York would rejuvenate him.
I haven't heard that the Knicks are interested in hiring West. All I'm doing here is connecting the dots. It's obvious that Thomas is working under volatile conditions: He was surprised when owner James Dolan sprung his improve-or-else ultimatum last year, and everyone was surprised last month when Dolan impulsively announced that Thomas' job was safe. For now. Who knows when the next surprise will come?
It's important to point out that Thomas has four years to go on his new extension, and that Dolan is renowned (or infamous) for showing loyalty to his employees. However, West's availability is going to increase the pressure on the Knicks' current management team to turn things around. Yet the inflexibility of their payroll would make it difficult for any GM to show improvement.
It isn't fair to blame everything in New York on Thomas. It isn't his fault that the Knicks are dysfunctioning, that they realize so little return on their enormous player investments. What kills the Knicks is their operating model. Ever since Ernie Grunfeld was unjustly fired in 1999 because he traded old Charles Oakley for young Marcus Camby, his successors as Knicks GMs have been under orders to swing recklessly for the fences, to use New York's surplus of cash to overwhelm the market. It's a shortsighted, hopeless way of doing business, and any loyal employee who attempts to follow it -- whether it's Scott Layden or Thomas or other potential GMs -- is doomed.
West would be one of the few GMs with the charisma to change the way business is done at Madison Square Garden. He could reclaim the agenda. He would create a new business model for a franchise that always talks about winning now -- yet can never articulate how it intends to do so.
Over the coming year, West is going to be sitting on the sideline with nothing much to do. There is going to be a lot of constructive pressure on the Knicks to reach out to him, to hire the biggest name to revive the league's biggest market. Is this going to become one of those self-fulfilling things? Sooner or later, is Jerry West going to be running the New York Knicks?
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