West and the Clippers bring it all back home, almost


If Lakerdom loved the idea of bringing Jerry West back to the team he played for so brilliantly and ran so expertly, he missed by about 50 feet, which is how far their dressing room is from the Clippers in the Staples Center hall. 

Who'd have thunk it? 

Not me. I wrote a lot of columns suggesting the wisdom of bringing West back before and after the Lakers fired Mitch Kupchak (oh yeah, and Jim Buss). 

As good a nuts-and-bolts GM as Kupchak was, it would have been good to have West's cachet and daring in Mitch's mentor. 

There was even more reason to bring him back after the arrival of Magic Johnson, who has enough cachet but no front office experience (oh yeah, and GM Rob Pelinka, a player agent with no more experience). 

I soon heard the Lakers had no plans to hire West. It sounded like the same deal it had been with Jerry Buss, a devoted fan of West who nonetheless left him sitting around in retirement in Malibu before it occurred to the Warriors to tack him on as a consultant. 

Jerry Buss might have been thinking of protecting Jimbo's place in the organization, or he might not have thought about it at all. The bottom line is, he never thought they needed West. 

Events will show whether Magic could have used West. Events have already shown that the fabulous Buss boys did with the Lakers' decline starting in 2011, the year West joined Golden State, marking the start of the Warriors' ascent. 

No one imagined it would be the Clippers who brought West home. They're in the process of doing just that, although they're not saying much until it's done. 

That's one you have to give owner Steve Ballmer, who has had little enough impact since paying $2 billion for the franchise, or as much as it cost for Magic and his people to buy the Dodgers, who came with a hilltop overlooking downtown and their own stadium. 

The No. 1 reason to bring in West as a consultant is: It can't hurt. 

No one is sure what he was making with Golden State but an insider guesses $1 million. Let's say the Clippers have agreed to pay him $2-3 million. That's chump change in an age in which teams get almost $90 million in national TV revenue to go with the huge local deals ($120 million for the Lakers, $50 million for the Clippers.) 

For what it's worth, the Lakers are no longer the fat cats in town. The Clippers charge more than they do for the courtside seats that Jack Nicholson, et al., sit in. With Ballmer's 330 million shares of Microsoft, the company he co-founded, he has made $8.8 billion since Aug. 12, 2014, when he officially bought the Clippers. 

West didn't rebuild the Warriors. If it was a team effort, the GM on the front lines every day was Bob Myers, another Southern California import from Arn Tellem's agent shop. 

Nevertheless, West's voice was heard, most clearly in the summer of 2014 when they considered trading Klay Thompson to Minnesota for Kevin Love. 

West opposed it. The Warriors withdrew. Love went to Cleveland for rookie Andrew Wiggins. Thompson and Steph Curry, the "Splash Brothers," became the all-time 3-point shooting backcourt, combining to average 8.3 a game during the 2015-16 season. The team has won two titles in a three-year run and blew a third after leading Cleveland, 3-1, in 2016. 

So what if the Clippers don't need West as badly as the Lakers did? For whatever they need him for, they've got him. 

But no, the Clippers don't need West as badly as the Lakers. Until now, they've been winning 50-plus games a season, going out in the first two rounds and getting zippo credit in what remains a Lakers town, even coming off win totals of 27-21-17-26, a dynamic that will be hard to change. 

West's greatest gift is the big picture. The Clippers' big picture is already clear with the key performers - Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan - in place. 

If team president Doc Rivers has been better as a coach than a personnel guy, his problem has been finding a small forward. Assuming we're talking about a role player like Luc M'bah a Moute who shoots better, that's not the reason you get a Jerry West who just turned 79 and isn't signing up to beat the bushes. 

Of course, we might not be talking about a role player but Carmelo Anthony, who looked like he was en route at midseason before Knicks owner James Dolan told Phil Jackson he didn't want him traded. 

Until then, Phil looked desperate enough to rid himself of Melo that he was willing to take anything back, like the package of Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford whom the Clippers were reportedly set to offer. 

Ignored as they are, the Clippers are actually fine with cachet with Rivers and CP3. Rivers is a favorite of players around the league, while Paul's esteem is reflected in his election to president of the Players Association Paul. He is also close to Melo, which is probably why the Clippers are one of two teams he has said he would waive his no-trade clause for. 

However gracious Rivers sounds when he finally talks about West's arrival, he can't take it as a compliment. On the other hand, Doc is a grownup. Until we hear differently, we'll assume he and Jerry will work it out. 

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they have the same problem everyone in the league does _ the Warriors, or the last team that West helped build _ which is that much worse in the Western Conference. 

The Clippers with West will likely be like they were before him, needing the next thing to a miracle to win a title and, failing that, eclipsed by the local team that wins half as many games. 

Nevertheless, as surely as dumber is bad, smarter is good. Whatever the Clippers were without West, they're better with him. 

As for West's former team, whatever the Lakers were without him, they still are.


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