LOS ANGELES-The Golden State Warriors’ loss is the Los Angeles Clippers’ gain. Thanks to the basketball savviness of Jerry West, the Warriors made it to the NBA Finals the last three seasons. West is now working for the Clippers to see if he can help elevate the ballclub to a championship-level team.
West said it was a meeting he had with team owners Steve Ballmer and Dennis Wong, coach Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank, executive vice president of basketball operations, that sealed the deal for him to join the franchise.
“Talking with Steve Ballmer and Dennis Wong, Dennis is part owner of this team too, the thing that really convinced me when were all five together, the one thing I wanted Doc and Lawrence to know, in no way, shape or form, if I came here, there was no one who was going to be replaced. No one,” West said. “If they didn’t agree to that, then I wouldn’t want to be here. I’m not here to replace anyone. Period. I’m here to help try make a difference. “
West doesn’t particularly care about change. He believes in continuity. West made that very clear in his introductory press conference as a consultant to the Clippers in a press conference on Monday, June 19, at the team’s practice facility. He also doesn’t believe in being hobbled by the idea of possibly failing. Going out on a limb, which he clearly did by leaving the comfort of his handiwork with the Warriors, is something he embraces. Challenges don’t scare him.
“Most people are always afraid,” West said. “I’m not afraid of anything. Fear of failure is the worst fear that you can possibly have. The criticism of why didn’t you this, why didn’t you do that…I left the Lakers when I would have been the highest-paid player in the league. I told the owner ‘I can’t play anymore. I would be stealing your money.’ I didn’t play. Number two, I left the Lakers after they had won one championship and I knew they were going to win more. I left then. Number three, I always said I wanted to work with the worst team in basketball in a small market. That’s the ultimate test of a person to see if you have anything. And that’s when you look at yourself, and say, ‘Look, you can’t be afraid and take this job.’ And now with the Warriors, no one is going to beat these guys if they stay healthy. That’s our job-to beat the Warriors, because that’s the standard that every team in the league has to look at today.”
But what was also abundantly clear from that press conference as well as from the announcement last week that the team is exploring options to consider finding a home in Inglewood, is that the Clippers are stepping up their game a couple of notches. The Inglewood City Council recently voted and approved a negotiating deal for the Clippers to have an arena in the city, despite the fact that the team is on the books as a Staples Center tenant through 2024.
The Clippers, it seems, do not want to be associated as the little brother to city and Staples Center hallway rival Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers, with these two bold announcements are saying they’ve had enough of the second-fiddle treatment. Coming up from the shadows of a team that has won 16 NBA titles looks imminent.
How bad does Ballmer wants to win? The two recent moves by the team signals he wants to win now. And not just a bunch of games during the regular season. Ballmer wants a championship. He has a championship coach in Doc Rivers. He has three All-Star players in Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. But Ballmer wants more. Ballmer wants the franchise to have its own identity, its own brand.
He and the Clippers’ brass have been working diligently in trying to bring that to pass. It started last season with the team unveiling its new logo. It grew into manifestation when the Clippers announced their own developmental league team earlier this year. Speed-dial it up to now. By possibly branching out to another city for the team to call home and to add The Logo to the franchise as a revered basketball mind, illustrates a couple of things.
One, the competition in the NBA’s Western Conference has already been off the chains the last couple of seasons. The playing field is about to get even stiffer with this year’s rookie crop and free agent frenzy tightening things up in the chase after the Warriors, a team that has won two of the last three NBA titles. The second thing that comes to mind is that the Clippers, now that the team has had a string of winning seasons, don’t want to go backward; they want to move up.
The last two seasons, the Clippers have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz, and have not advanced past the second round of the postseason. With Griffin, Paul and J.J. Redick up for free agency, the addition of West and the discussion of the team moving, could stabilize things in Clipperland. It also will allow Doc Rivers, also the team’s president of basketball of operations, get more rest.
“I want to sleep at night,” Rivers said. “Lawrence (Frank), since hiring him, he has allowed me to sleep more. Now with Jerry, I want to be able to have a group that I know every night that we have the best group, and we’re searching for the best. Jerry and I are similar in the fact that we just want to win. Like I don’t have another reason for doing my job. I’m not looking to have a ‘day.’ I’ve had my day. I’m looking to win.”
The fact that the Clippers was able to get Mr. Clutch in the Lakers’ own backyard is an extraordinary feat in its own. West earned is Hall of Fame stripes wearing the Purple and Gold, and was instrumental in bringing Kobe Bryant to the Lakers. His reputation around the league as an executive is untethered.
After building the Lakers brand into a powerhouse monopoly, after grinding away to make Memphis a viable Western Conference contender, and after taking the Warriors on a title pathway, West last go-round is to pushing the Clippers into real championship material.
“I am sold on the ownership here,” West said. “I am really sold on this ownership. I think they want to establish their own identity in this town and that’s what to me is most important. Establish their own identity, and number one, their own ability to win at the very highest high level. I don’t believe you promise people anything. They’ve had the best team in town for seven straight years. But that hasn’t been good enough. They want to try to get to a different level. And I promise you that the things that will allow them to get to the next level is Steve Ballmer and his presence.”