Jerry West was hired last week to join the Executive Board of the Golden State Warriors. Since then everyone in the Bay Area has been wracking their brain to figure out exactly what he will and won’t be doing. Heck, right now, people would just settle for a definite title. Co-owner? President? Consultant? After hearing him talk during Tuesday’s introductory press conference, I think I’ve put my finger on it.
Jerry West is the Oracle of Oracle Arena.
From the effusive introduction by owner Joe Lacob to the sometimes folksy, sometimes modern, generally vague answers given by West, he had all the characteristics of the mystic that helped Keanu Reeves take down the machines. Minus being an old black woman.
On working with Lacob and Peter Guber: “You can’t do anything right in this world without working with great people.”
On how large his role with the team would be: “When an individual dominates the spotlight, that’s not a great thing.”
On how to turn the Warriors into a winner: “The best risk takers do the best in this business.”
Since they took over the team nearly a year ago, Lacob and Guber have not been afraid to make major decisions. They fired head coach Don Nelson and recently parted ways with his successor, Keith Smart. But their biggest risk so far might be hiring the closest thing the NBA has to a sure thing.
His accomplishments with the Lakers have been well documented. 18 seasons, seven championships and helping to acquire some of the game’s greatest players from James Worthy to Shaquille O’Neal to Kobe Bryant. Perhaps the most amazing part of West’s Laker legacy is that after the team took Worthy with the first pick in 1982, they never drafted higher than 10th (Eddie Jones in 1994) during the remainder of his tenure with the franchise. From that un-Worthy group came a combined 18 All-Star Game appearances. Admittedly 13 of them belong to Kobe, but it’s a list of players that also includes Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, George Lynch and Derek Fisher. Even his days with Memphis were eyebrow-raising, taking over a 28-win team and helping them make the playoffs three years in a row.
The short version is that West has had a knack for finding talent in all sorts of places, something that has eluded Warriors management in years past – especially when it comes to selecting a big man. Before taking Andris Biedrins in 2004, the last post players of any significance drafted by Golden State were Joe Smith (#1 overall, 1995), Chris Gatling (#16 overall, 1991) and Tyrone Hill (#11 overall, 1990). That’s no one’s all-NBA frontcourt.
You’d expect that West is planning to roll up his sleeves, jump in with both feet and get to tinkering with his new team. Not so fast. After all, the Oracle never battled the machines but simply pointed Neo in the right direction. With tension surrounding whether or not general manager Larry Riley would return, West rightly said that he had no plans to overshadow him or assistant GM Bob Myers.
Instead, West’s value will be as a team builder, which was something he talked about with reporters after the press conference. More than anything, the Warriors need someone who can convince everyone in the organization that it’s much easier to move forward if everyone pushes the same direction. Easier said than done for a franchise that hasn’t seemed to have a consistent plan since the days of Run TMC. For years, former owner Chris Cohan allowed Don Nelson free rein of the ballclub, allowing him to stockpile lean, athletic players who could score but do little else.
There is also a sense of stability that West brings with him to Oakland. Since Johnny Bach left after the end of the 1986 season, only two coaches have lasted beside the Bay for three seasons or more – Nelson and P.J. Carlesimo. Three is apparently the magic number for West, who said that any coach should have at least three seasons before he can truly be evaluated.
But the best attribute that Jerry West can bring to the organization is being Jerry West. For an ownership group that has made promises about being serious to compete for championships, being able to say ” Jerry West Golden State Warriors Advisor ” lends credibility. For a fanbase hungering for anyone that can create lasting success, West will be given lots of leeway. For Riley, Myers and everyone else involved in the decision making process, it means that they would be wise to heed his advice.
However for the second straight season, Warriors fans have reason to be hopeful again. Last summer’s sale of the club removed the stench of the Cohan era from the East Bay. Now West’s arrival means the team may finally find a direction and with Lacob and Guber’s finances, they’ll have the resources to get there. With so many young stars migrating to the Eastern Conference and many of the West’s remaining stars getting long in the tooth, there is an opportunity for Golden State to make a move.
That means he’s decided whether its Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis who will be traded, right? Nope. In fact, he was equally vague on that subject, talking about how much he liked both players and how he thinks they can play well together. But he also pointed out how he traded Norm Nixon to make room for Magic Johnson. So on the “do you trade Curry or Ellis?” question, West answered with a resounding “maybe”.
Then again, no one ever said the Oracle had all the answers.