Im­pressed by Clip­pers’ front of­fice, West says he’s ex­cited to work for team

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Brod­er­ick Turner

Jerry West is leav­ing the NBA cham­pion Golden State War­riors to join forces with the Clip­pers, and the nat­u­ral ques­tion is why.

He pro­vided an an­swer in an in­ter­view Thurs­day morn­ing: the peo­ple.

The al­lure of work­ing with Clip­pers own­ers Steve Ballmer and Den­nis Wong, as well as coach Doc Rivers, is what pulled West back to Los An­ge­les.

Ballmer and Wong, friends since their col­lege days at Har­vard, were in­stru­men­tal in pulling off the coup to get West.

Wong, who owns a small per­cent­age of the Clip­pers, played a piv­otal role. He once had a small own­er­ship stake with the War­riors and saw how West helped turn Golden State into an NBA power in his six sea­sons there.

Wong per­sisted, and West fi­nally re­lented, agree­ing to be­come a con­sul­tant with the Clip­pers that will al­low him to per­form in an ad­vi­sor’s role sim­i­lar to what he had as an ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber with

the War­riors.

An agree­ment for him to work for the Clip­pers is in place, West said, but no con­tract has been signed.

“For me, life is about pas­sion. Life is about be­ing around peo­ple you want to be around,” West said. “In my meet­ing with Steve and Den­nis Wong, they were great.

“I think [Ballmer] is go­ing to be one of the great own­ers that this league has. For a man who has had enor­mous suc­cess, you would never know if you’re around him, un­less you knew. He’s just down to earth.”

West met with Ballmer, Wong and Rivers, who is also the team’s pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions, on May 30 at the Clip­pers’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity in Playa Vista.

West, 79, said he came away im­pressed with their vi­sion. He liked the front of­fice that’s spear­headed by Lawrence Frank, the Clip­pers’ ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions.

“The con­nec­tion I made with the Clip­pers, im­me­di­ately I felt great af­ter that meet­ing,” West said. “From Doc and Lawrence and the rest of the bas­ket­ball peo­ple, I just felt great.”

The Clip­pers have reached the play­offs six con­sec­u­tive sea­sons but have never ad­vanced past the sec­ond round.

They are brac­ing for Chris Paul and Blake Grif­fin to opt out of their con­tracts and be­come un­re­stricted free agents, and they know J.J. Redick is an un­re­stricted free agent who may be­come too ex­pen­sive to keep.

Paul and Grif­fin could re­turn to the Clip­pers for big con­tracts or they could bolt.

The Clip­pers don’t have any picks in the draft next week, but they may look to buy a sec­ond-round pick.

West knows all that, but says he’s ready for the chal­lenge.

“I want to see the Clip­pers get to where the owner and the peo­ple who work there in­ter­nally want to go,” West said. “They have some re­ally lofty goals over there, re­ally lofty goals, and they thought I can help. I’m thrilled that I was wanted. I’m thrilled that they thought I could help and I’m hope­ful that I can.”

West heard Lak­ers fans beg­ging him to re­turn to the fran­chise that he once turned into cham­pi­ons as one of the league’s premier ex­ec­u­tives.

But the Lak­ers hired Magic John­son as their pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions and Rob Pelinka as the gen­eral man­ager.

“Peo­ple will ask ques­tions about the Lak­ers,” West said. “I don’t re­ally have any­thing to say about the Lak­ers. I don’t. I’m not go­ing to say any­thing deroga­tory about the Lak­ers. This is not about me be­ing in com­pe­ti­tion with the Lak­ers.

“It’s about me want­ing to try to see if I can help make a dif­fer­ence with the peo­ple the Clip­pers have in place. I’m not go­ing to be the out­front per­son.”

West re­called how he stood in the hall­way at Or­a­cle Arena in Oak­land late Mon­day night af­ter the War­riors de­feated Cleveland to win the NBA cham­pi­onship, think­ing this was his last goaround with Golden State.

“I will re­ally miss that War­riors or­ga­ni­za­tion. I re­ally will,” West said. “But hon­estly, there was noth­ing left for me to do. When I left there Mon­day night af­ter they won the cham­pi­onship, it was prob­a­bly the worst feel­ing I ever had in my life as a bas­ket­ball per­son. I knew I wasn’t go­ing to be part of that any­more.”

West’s son, Ryan, the Lak­ers’ di­rec­tor of player per­son­nel, prob­a­bly will join the Clip­pers in some ca­pac­ity.

Jerry West earned credit for turn­ing the Lak­ers into a dy­nasty that won five NBA cham­pi­onships in the 1980s and re­build­ing them into a team that won ti­tles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

He spent five years with the Mem­phis Griz­zlies and helped them be­come a play­off-cal­iber team. He saw the War­riors win two of the last three NBA cham­pi­onships and reach the Fi­nals the last three years.

Now it’s on to a new test with the Clip­pers.

“To me, the things that have al­ways ex­cited me are the chal­lenges,” West said. “I’m re­ally goal-ori­ented. I have been all my life. This is an­other op­por­tu­nity to com­pete in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent kind of way.”

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