Hall of Famer West eager to give Golden State a taste of success
Jerry West joined the Warriors as an executive board member with minority stake
He will be heavily involved in the team's coaching search, wants a fresh face
West also discussed the Lakers' fall, Kareem Abdul Jabbar's desire for a statue
SAN FRANCISCO -- The first time Jerry West teamed up with Joe Lacob, he did so quite reluctantly. The basketball legend was helping his friend, Magic Johnson, at his fantasy camp in Hawaii, and even his status as "The Logo" didn't grant him a trump card when it came to picking teams. This was the Magic show, and so West was left to build his roster from the scrap heap up after his former player had taken the little talent that was on hand. Lacob was a leftover, a venture capitalist with a passion for hoops who would quickly be deemed the "mouse in the house" that day when he was matched up against much bigger foes in the frontcourt.
Some 15 years later, their second pairing couldn't be any more different than the first.
The 72-year-old West was elated to join Lacob's Golden State team this week, his return to the game coming four years after he left his front-office post in Memphis. The charity work was fulfilling, the routine rounds of golf enthralling and the late nights hijacking the television from his wife, Karen, to watch NBA action intriguing, but West is back where he belongs with a vow that he has no plans on being the mouse in this Warriors house.
The humblest of icons is also one of the most shrewd, and his addition to the Warriors as an executive board member (with minority ownership interest, no less) not only legitimized the Lacob/Peter Guber era that began in October when the two bought the team for a record $450 million, but also sent a message to the league at large that the days of this sleeping-giant market being underutilized appear to be over. West enters with trademark politeness, having gone to great lengths to ensure that incumbent front-office men Larry Riley, Bob Myers, Travis Schlenk and Lacob's son, Kirk, didn't see him as a threat to their professional existence before agreeing to come. But after they opened the door, West didn't wait long before making the sort of noise that should expedite the cultural change that had already begun.
"It's been a long time since you won a championship up here," said West, the Hall of Famer who made nine trips to the Finals in 14 seasons with the Lakers as a player and won one championship, then won four titles and made eight trips to the Finals during his 18-year run as a Lakers executive. "That is the only goal, and I think there's a process to getting there ... I would be disappointed if this team didn't make the playoffs, because I do think you have progressive, risk-taking owners, and the best risk-takers are the best in this business."
No one was proclaiming a power shift in the Western Conference, nor should they be. West's arrival doesn't change the organization's dreadful history, as they've missed the playoffs in 16 of the last 17 seasons. But he is clearly embracing this blank canvas on which he can now help paint, and his enthusiasm in joining the Warriors combined with the frequent mentions of the Lakers underscored the obvious paradox in place.
His beloved Lakers have been in disarray of late. Their championship run came to an embarrassing end in the Western Conference semifinals sweep to Dallas, with no one more incensed than West at the classless way in which they were undone. The most curious of coaching searches did not involve asking the opinion of franchise centerpiece Kobe Bryant, with the owner's son, Jim Buss, driving that ill-advised ship that led to the expected hiring of Mike Brown.
All the while, fellow Laker legends were adding to the drama. Magic was telling the hoops nation with his ESPN microphone that the Lakers' future would be brighter if they overhauled the roster. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was more worried about the past, complaining publicly that a Staples Center statue had yet to be built in his honor and declaring that he was exiling himself from the organization.
All of it was very anti-West, the antithesis of a man known for his graceful style and incredible substance. In that regard, it should surprise no one that he jumped at this chance.
He has a welcome distraction now, a refreshing challenge in front of him in which he'll be heavily praised for progress and easily absolved if the status quo remains. And unlike that day so long ago in Hawaii, West is thrilled to be joining this team.
A few notes from West's introduction with the Warriors ...
He is, in essence, a high-powered consultant. His voice will be heard on all personnel matters, but the final decisions will be made by Riley and, of course, Lacob. West will still live in Los Angeles, but said he plans to be in Oakland as much as is needed.
West was asked about the potent-but-undersized Warriors' backcourt of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis (both 6-foot-3) and whether they can be part of a championship-level team. Trading one of the guards for a badly needed front-court piece this offseason could wind up being the sort of aggressive move West alluded to, and he emphasized the need for more size in his response.
"I look at the Curry kid, for instance, and I see tremendous growth in him as a player -- tremendous growth," West said. "But there's still more room for improvement, and that improvement will come from experience. Monta Ellis [is a] fierce competitor. He competes his fanny off. I love watch to him play. To me, size helps. Size helps."