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  • The Clippers, a franchise lacking prestige, make the ultimate hire by adding Jerry West and bringing immediate cachet.
By Rob Mahoney
June 15, 2017

The Warriors as we know them were built by the free exchange of ideas. It was only because Nick U’Ren, a Golden State staffer, felt comfortable coming to Steve Kerr with an idea in the first place that he suggested starting Andre Iguodala in the 2015 NBA Finals. When possible trades arose, the culture of the Warriors’ front office made those deals an organizational discussion rather than a unilateral decision. Part of what made the Warriors great was the plurality of voices in the room—the most frank of which will now be moving on. As SI’s Jack McCallum reported on Wednesday, Jerry West will step down from his advisory role in Golden State to consult instead for the L.A. Clippers.

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To leave the Warriors at their most inevitable is as West as it gets. This is the same man who helped build the three-peat Lakers of the early 2000s only to temporarily retire. The next job West took was as the general manager of the 23-win Grizzlies. One of the great competitors in NBA history stokes that drive even as an executive. During his first season in Memphis, West told SI: “I can't remember the last time I was this—well, I don't want to say happy, but I do feel energized."

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The challenges of maintaining the league’s most well-oiled machine are apparently not so interesting to West as those facing one of its luckless rivals. West, now 79, might not be in a position to run a team himself anymore. Still he so clearly loves the grind of improvement and the boldness involved in making moves.

Consultancy is perfect for him. West is not the sort of executive to be around the team constantly, though his voice is always heard when it matters. He brings clout, experience, and most of all: intelligent dissent. West is not the sort to ever be shut out or quieted. Bluntness comes standard, and to some West is taken as adversarial. Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson was so put off by West’s demeanor that he requested that West not attend practices or team functions. Yet in the collaborative environment fostered by Kerr and Warriors general manager Bob Myers, West brought a valuable, counterbalancing skepticism. The Warriors might never have become the Warriors if not for West advocating, with full fire, for every move he felt was right.

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You’re unlikely to find any greater booster of Klay Thompson, whom West famously advocated keeping against the prospect of trading Thompson in a package for Kevin Love. Thompson would go on to play a crucial role in three straight Finals runs—including punching the Warriors’ ticket in 2016 with an all-time playoff performance. Beyond that, Thompson has turned into the exact sort of cross-matching guard Golden State needed alongside Stephen Curry, a perfect mechanism for Kerr’s motion-heavy offense, and just the sort of person who can make good on a fluctuating role behind two former MVPs. 

Part of the reason West was so confident in Thompson is that he isn’t sentimental about the game he used to play. It is typical of today’s NBA legends to revere the league of their time at the expense of the modern game. Post play is eulogized as if more advanced defensive schemes didn’t wound it. Volume three-point shooting is frowned upon as if expansion in that area hadn’t resulted in some of the greatest offenses in league history. NBA basketball looks radically different than it did even five years ago—much less 50 years ago, when West was in his prime. 

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Still, West speaks to how much the sport has changed in a way that conveys complexity and evolution. “It’s not only different but a more difficult game,” West said of modern basketball on the whole, per the Register-Herald. What could be a signature voice in the crotchety ex-players division of the NBA discourse was instead a collaborator in building a championship team fully symbolic of its era. Acceptance of the league around him is just a part of West’s job. He is not a visionary so much as a realist.

The Clippers could use that. West is a prestige hiring for a franchise without much of it—both around the league and within the region. His name means something. His input means even more, particularly for a franchise that could use a little dissent in its ranks. Doc Rivers went above and beyond his duties as head coach to keep the Clippers together in a moment of crisis. Yet since he took over as team president, the Clips have squandered what limited resources they’ve had available to build out from their four-man core. A voice like West’s couldn’t hurt when it comes to ironing out some of the team’s internal logic, particularly at a time when the Clippers are at risk of losing both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in free agency. 

There is a tinge of peril to the Clippers’ standing, which may well have made the job more attractive to West. His career as an executive is framed by his own references to “challenges.” West’s newest one, by his own choice, comes in direct opposition to his previous successes. Part of what he chases now is the thrill of toppling the champion he helped build. "To me, there would be no greater joy than Memphis beating Los Angeles in a playoff series,” West said back in 2003. “That would mean we had beaten the best." 

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