On Monday, the LA Clippers presented Jerry West as a special consultant for the front office.
The man who served as the architect of the Showtime Lakers, constructed the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, and played a role in the emerging dynasty of the Golden State Warriors, is now working for the local team that did not hang up his jersey in the rafters and build a statue of him outside its home arena.
For the Clippers, this level of legitimacy and growth only further solidifies the positive direction of the franchise.
The LA Clippers have the bottomless pockets of Steve Ballmer, who is one of the most uniquely enthusiastic owners in the history of the league. Monday's press conference to make official the arrival of West served as a reminder of the pressure that had been lifted off Doc Rivers' shoulders.
"I want to sleep at night," Rivers said at the press conference when asked why West was being hired. "Hiring (Lawrence Frank) allowed me to rest more. Now with Jerry, I want to be able to have a group I know every night that we have the best group and we're searching for the best."
Frank was the third man on the stage, furthest from the podium and literally sitting next to Rivers' right ear, metaphorically sitting on the right shoulder. The message was clear: Rivers' responsibilities were gradually being reduced, even if he was still the President of Basketball Operations, along with being the coach.
"This is just another great example of the commitment that Steve Ballmer has allowed the organization, Doc Rivers and me to add someone like Jerry West," Frank explicitly stated, the message being delivered.
Frank, who was named the Clippers executive vice-president of basketball operations in the summer of 2016, now had one additional, experienced and highly-respected voice to help guide the future of a franchise that is facing significant change.
The Clippers can ill afford to allow both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to walk this summer considering the lack of young talent on the roster and zero draft picks in the near future.
Paul can capitalize on an additional year on his contract by staying in LA, which amounts to significant levels of guaranteed money for the 32-year-old president of the Players' Association. On the other hand, talk of Paul joining the San Antonio Spurs may require a fair amount of maneuvering from San Antonio, but Paul effectively assuming Tony Parker's role, with Kawhi Leonard being arguably the best two way player in the NBA, could be the combination that at least challenges the Warriors' emerging reign in the Western Conference.
Keeping Paul would be in the Clippers' best interests, of course, even if they eventually decide to trade him; though, his leverage in negotiations suggests he could also secure a no-trade clause. Keeping Paul on the team would at least guarantee that the Clippers would remain one of the top teams in the West for the near future. Also, Paul would be a valuable tool in attracting free agents looking to win sooner rather than later, namely LeBron James--more on that later.
Griffin's desire to return to the Clippers should also be an interesting case, as the 28-year-old is probably young enough to warrant another big contract after four years. A move to a Texas team like Houston or a Florida team like Miami would help cut out a chunk of the salary difference due to no state income tax in the aforementioned states. Finally, Griffin's desire, or lack thereof, to stick with the Clippers' project could well be the biggest challenge facing the newly assembled front office team in free agency.
Again, the benefit of keeping Griffin is that the team can trade him for assets at some point even if the current Clippers don't improve on the previous season.
Surely, West will talk to both Paul and Griffin about their futures and will likely work to bring both players back. In his introduction, however, the 79-year-old dodged the question on the free agent decisions awaiting with the skill of the most experienced of orators. Afterwards, the bulging basketball brain even boasted, "I don't hear very well. I'm your typical politician. I never answer."
Without a doubt, West brings added charisma and local respectability to a franchise that could certainly be in the conversation for James' signature if he decides to leave Cleveland in a year's time.
Why would James leave Cleveland?
Well, Ballmer is the type of owner and billionaire business connection that would only make too much sense for a star player that has publicly and privately struggled with the reaction of Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert when James sat down for "The Decision" and announced his move to Miami.
After winning Cleveland's first title in half a century, James leaving the Cavaliers would likely not be greeted by same jersey burning and anger this time around. In fact, James' exit appeared to be more of a talking point than ever before because of Cleveland announcing the departure of general manager David Griffin on the same day--an executive James had publicly backed earlier in the season.
Clippers obviously have a full front office with the addition of Jerry West. But look for them to call David Griffin like they did w/ KG
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 20, 2017
The man who helped construct the championship winning side a year earlier and also built a side strong enough to reach the finals for the third straight season had unceremoniously been let go. No replacement was immediately announced, and reports suggested Griffin had been fielding calls regarding All-Stars Paul George and Jimmy Butler in recent days, which further sent shock waves regarding the timing of the decision.
With the NBA Draft on Thursday and free agency a couple weeks away, they did little to instill confidence in the Cavs' organization. For a team that needs to rebound from a Finals defeat and utilize the best player on the planet approaching the end of his prime, the front office vacancy at the worst possible time could see James moving out west in one year's time, i.e. to join West.
If conquering the West was to be "King" James' desire, the Lakers would likely also dress up and court arguably the greatest natural basketball talent of this lifetime. And so, West would be competing with the Lakers directly.
"I'm really proud of my time with the Lakers—really proud," West said on the subject of the Lakers. "Obviously, it's a different time and a place. You know, I wish them well. But when they're playing the Clippers, no, I don't wish them well."
West added, "I don't live in the past. You learn from the past. You do not live in the past."
West spoke highly of Rivers' handling of the awkward ouster of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Then, the man associated with nine NBA titles--eight of which came as an executive--stated that the Clippers represented the end of his basketball life.
"Here I am on the last adventure of my life, and I like to call it an adventure," West said. "I believe in ownership a lot."
The message was clear. West would help build the new brand of Clippers. It was Ballmer's corporate backing drawing West to the Clippers, and along the way, West will likely pluck his son, Ryan West, from the Lakers' organization. The younger West was a standout in the Lakers' scouting department and worked closely with the previous administration's front office. After Rob Pelinka and Earvin "Magic" Johnson took over the Lakers' front office, Ryan West was so highly regarded that he kept his position. But now, Jerry West's arrival may well lead to the Lakers losing a front office asset, while the Clippers will likely gain two valuable voices.
Ultimately, though, Jerry West displayed his comfort with the men he would be working with but particularly pointed to Ballmer as the deciding factor in his decision to sit in front of a Clippers' logo.
"I am sold on the ownership here. I think they want to establish their own identity in this town, and that is what to me is most important," West said.
At one point, West paused after talking about Ballmer and shared out loud, "Honestly, I'm really thrilled. I'm really thrilled."