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How Jerry West helped turn the Warriors from doormat to dynasty

Jerry McDonald, Bay Area News Group on

Published in Basketball

For all that Jerry West accomplished in his 86 years, his role in helping transform the Warriors into a championship team held a special place in his heart.

“I’ve been so fortunate in my life to be part of some really fun things, and some incredibly disappointing things,” West told former Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami in 2017 during a 16-1 playoff run to the title. “But they’ve shown a dominance that I can’t remember ever seeing ... I’ll never see it again in my lifetime, I don’t think. It’s just special, the legions of fans that the Warriors have and the fans of the Bay Area — my gosh, you’re seeing something special. And you may not ever see it again.

“As my basketball life passes before me, I marvel at what’s happening.”

West died Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers announced. And while West was the general manager of six championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, he contributed significantly to two NBA titles while serving as an adviser to owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber from 2011-17.

“Jerry had a profound and immense impact on our franchise and was instrumental in our recent decade of success,” Lacob said as part of a statement released by the Warriors.

While West had no final say in personnel moves during his time with the Warriors and was uninterested in taking too much credit for the Warriors’ success, ownership and management including general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr leaned into his knowledge and instinct.

The Warriors won the NBA title in 2014-15, lost in the finals following a record-setting 73-9 regular season, and won again in 2016-17 in part because West helped facilitate the signing of Kevin Durant as a free agent.

That postseason was one of the most dominant in NBA history, with the Warriors losing just once and beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals in five games, avenging the previous season’s loss to Cleveland and LeBron James in seven games.

Durant was sold on the Warriors in part because of lobbying from the team’s star players, and was told by West his points would come easier and he’d be able to take fewer shots to score the same amount of points, according to a 2016 ESPN story by Chris Broussard.

While Durant was viewed as a talented scorer, West believed the 6-foot-11 forward was more than that and would fit into the Warriors’ style of play.

“What I said to him was his all-around game, people will start to appreciate that,” West told Kawakami in 2016. “And this is what was hidden. He’s unbelievably prideful, he is classy. He is one of the classiest stars I’ve ever seen in my life. I just said to him, his all-around greatness as a player would come out playing with this team.”

In his first draft with the Warriors, West was an advocate for selecting Klay Thompson with the 11th overall pick out of Washington State in 2011 and the following year he pushed for the selection of Draymond Green out of Michigan State in the second round at No. 35 overall.

When the Warriors considered trading Thompson for Kevin Love, West campaigned successfully against it.

“I am going to miss Mr. West,” Thompson said in an Instagram Story. “A true pioneer of basketball and one of them ones.”

 

Thompson’s tribute concluded with a goat emoji symbolizing “Greatest of All Time.”

In May of 2012, West pushed for a trade that included sending Monta Ellis to Milwaukee and bringing Andrew Bogut to the Warriors. Ellis’ departure freed up Stephen Curry to take over the offense, with Bogut providing an inside presence.

In an interview with NBA.com after he left the franchise, West said of Curry, “He plays a fun game, and when you watch kids, he’s made basketball more popular. I guarantee you he’s enhanced the game because we see more and more people shooting the ball from distance.”

West, who was the Lakers’ GM during the “Showtime” years and later targeted Kobe Bryant as a high school player in the NBA Draft, was reluctant to compare those teams with the Warriors teams he helped build.

When former Laker Magic Johnson said he thought his “Showtime” team could sweep the Warriors, West pushed back.

“None of these players from the past need to be talking,” West said. “I know everyone’s prideful with the careers they’ve had. I just think they should understand it’s a different time and a different era and don’t even try to compare teams.”

When West joined the Warriors in 2011, the Warriors were coming off seasons of 23, 36 and 23 wins under the ownership of Chris Cohan. In 2014 in a Q&A with “Fast Break,” a Mercury News fan blog, West described what was different with Lacob and Guber.

“Obviously there were things where they needed a new start, a fresh start. With the new owners, who came here, their vision was greater than what the fans had seen before. I’ve always been a believer in goal setting. This, to me, is an example of what can be done with the right people in place and risk taking — prudent risk taking on the part of management.”

Kerr was a disciple of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, a coach that West held in high regard. West’s vision for what the Warriors would become was similar to that of Kerr.

“Let’s be a team that plays better together. Let’s lead the league in assists per team,” West told Fast Break. “Let’s be one of the league leaders in field goal percentage against our team. We have enough talent here to score points ... when you’re having nights against a good defensive team, you have to win in a different manner.”

When West departed the Warriors for the Clippers in a similar capacity, he told The Athletic he would have liked to stay.

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was,” West said. “A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.”


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