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Dieter Kurtenbach: Recruiting Jerry West is the best move the Warriors ever made

Dieter Kurtenbach, Bay Area News Group on

Published in Basketball

Jerry West will always be the Logo, Mr. Clutch, and a Los Angeles Lakers legend.

But West, one of the greatest players and minds in basketball history, who died Wednesday morning at age 86, will always, to me, be The Basis in the Bay.

His infinite roundball wisdom and never-compromise attitude proved to be the foundation on which the Warriors dynasty was built.

And while his role with the Warriors was never fully defined — he was an adviser to team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber from 2011 to 2017 — his impact on the team was unimpeachable.

Would the Warriors have ever won a title without West?

I doubt it.

Would they have become arguably the greatest basketball team of all time not long thereafter?

Not a chance.

West’s influence turned the Warriors from a league laughingstock to the league’s lodestar. His unwavering competitiveness — impossible to miss as a player — crept into every part of the organization as an executive.

“I was not afraid. Everyone talks about being a ‘dog.’ Well, I was a wolf. I used to eat dogs,” West said of his playing career on an NBA panel last year.

Two moves highlighted basketball brilliance and that wolf mentality during his tenure with Golden State.

The first was his insistence — and few could force an issue like West — that the Warriors not trade Klay Thompson for then-Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in June 2014.

At the time, Love was a three-time All-Star coming off a season where he averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds a game. The consensus thought is that the Warriors adding him — even at the cost of Thompson — would take the Dubs, who were knocking on the door of contention in the Western Conference, over the top.

New Warriors coach Steve Kerr disagreed, but he was outnumbered among the team’s braintrust. Until West came in and put down his foot.

 

West threatened to quit if the Warriors traded Thompson. He saw the future of the league and knew Golden State would deeply regret trading a shooter of his caliber; the perfect backcourt partner to Steph Curry.

(To say nothing of the implications to Draymond Green’s career if Love — a power forward, like Green — had come to the Bay.)

The Warriors won the team’s first title in 40 years the next June.

And perhaps that would have been the Warriors’ only title, had West not helped convince Kevin Durant to join the team after Golden State’s 2016 NBA Finals loss.

Recruiting Durant was a full-court press by the Dubs, but it was West’s relaying his heartbreak as a player to the star forward — he lost in the NBA Finals seven times before finally winning in 1972 — that put the Warriors over the top.

The message resonated with Durant, whose arrival in Oakland pushed the team to new heights, winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.

By the time that portion of the Warriors dynasty ended, West had exited the scene, taking a similar role with the Clippers in 2017.

“His presence, his personality, his competitiveness, his passion for those that know him or have been around him, it’s unique,” then-Warriors general manager Bob Myers said in 2017.

A gold medalist, a 14-time All-Star, a three-time enshrinee in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (twice as a player, once as an executive), it was that constant pursuit of the best that drove West.

As he used to say: There is winning and then there is misery.

While that misery is unquestionably part of his incredible legacy, he will be remembered as a winner.

And the Warriors, by proxy, became winners, too.

“To me, he was basketball,” Lacob said in a statement Wednesday. “He was the most competitive individual I have ever met, settling for nothing short of greatness. He had to win. It consumed him. He was bigger than life. He was an icon. We are devastated with today’s news.”


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