After winning a second championship in three seasons as a Golden State Warriors executive, NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West left to become a consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers. West arrives at a crucial moment for the Clippers, just days ahead of the NBA Draft, and with three key members of the team entering free agency.
West joined Wednesday's episode of "The Herd" to discuss the state of the NBA, his opinion of the Lakers' busy offseason, and the futures of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Jerry West on the advent of player mobility
Colin Cowherd: “Players have more mobility than ever in the NBA. People point to LeBron, but go back in your career. When do you think player mobility really started? Truly started, where the players felt like they controlled the league?”
Jerry West: “Well, it’s really interesting. I think the advent of it was 1964, in the Boston Garden, the first nationally televised NBA All-Star Game. Where a bunch of players, organized by the late Larry Fleisher, sat in a room and told these owners that we weren’t going to play unless they recognized the players’ rights to have some rights. Collective bargaining, if you might. To form a union.
"We sat in that locker room for I think over an hour. Elgin Baylor and I were with the Lakers then, first team on the West Coast for a while.
"And I’ll never forget the former owner when I came here, the late Bob Short. He walked in that room and he called Elgin Baylor and I — and I was really shy, I had never been exposed to anything in my life, coming from West Virginia, a small town, until I became… I guess you were a professional, because you got paid for it. It was like the stone ages.
"And all of a sudden, this owner said to me ‘Look, do you want to play basketball anymore?’ And I said ‘Yes, I do. It’s what I love to do.’
And he said to me ‘You know, you’ll never play another basketball game in your life if you don’t go out there and play in this All-Star Game.’
"And I’m really defiant; I’m very defiant when I believe in something. And I said ‘Absolutely. I guess I’m not going to play another basketball game.’
"I think there was an hour-and-a-half delay in the game. The owners finally agreed to let the players have some voice in where they were going.”
“Little did I know that this union would become so powerful, and this league would become so popular that players can decide where they want to go. If they want to do it, in many cases they’re going to get a huge amount of money to do it — but I don’t think money’s the issue anymore, because the players are making astronomical amounts of money.
"They have earned the right to go where they want to play — but I do think there should be some order to it, and there’s certainly no order to it today — when you see players [saying] ‘I’m going to go here,’ ‘I demanded to go there.’
"That, to me, is not appealing at all. And agents, obviously, control that narrative.”
Jerry West on why you shouldn't blame players for switching teams
Colin Cowherd: “Couldn’t I defend the players, though, and say… I could make an argument there should be 14-16 teams, but the owners like expansion fees. They all get a $50 million check or whatever. And so we’ve got a handful of teams in this league where players don’t want to play in these markets.
"I’ll defend Kevin Durant, like I have. So Kevin Durant lands in Seattle, and the owner leaves town. And then he ends up in Oklahoma City, then they get rid of James Harden — and he liked James Harden.
"Sometimes these players watch these owners and these GMs and they don’t see a lot of loyalty. Is it possible guys like Kevin Durant are like ‘Listen, my owner wasn’t loyal to Seattle. They weren’t loyal to James Harden.’
"Are players just following the lead of the owners?”
Jerry West: “Well you’re 100 percent right. Seattle was a city that was fortunate enough to have won a championship. They were fortunate enough to see some really good players. They were more than fortunate to have a young, budding star in Kevin Durant — and they have no control over where they go. They have little control when they’re under contract to a player.
"But don’t forget the agent’s role in this. Players have things, I’m sure, in their endorsement contracts. They move to a bigger market, they probably get more money. But also, many times, they leave a lot of money on the table by staying with a team wherever they may be.
"You cannot blame it on the players. You cannot. I know once in my career, and I was a loyal, loyal Laker player… when you have owners that [aren’t] really completely honest with you… I thought the Lakers would be my last destination, to be honest with you, when I was a player. But I would have left the Lakers, period, because [of] what I felt was a blatant lie to me by ownership. And it certainly wasn’t the present ownership. But I was furious, and I think somewhere along the way people have to have integrity, and I hope the players feel that way.
"And I’m thrilled that they have a chance to go. Is it wrong? Hey, listen, it doesn’t look great. But Kevin Durant? The things that were said about him… He went through this process, he met with three teams, he decided to make a choice. And my best guess is it wasn’t because of what people think about his relationship of Russell Westbrook. I have never heard him say a disparaging word about anyone back there. This is a person who has gotten criticized for no reason.”
Kirby LeeKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry West on Kevin Durant
"He made a choice. Everyone thinks that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had to make the ultimate sacrifice. Trust me, Kevin Durant made the ultimate sacrifice.
"…. I was so thrilled. It was probably one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had in my life, to watch all the negative things said about him and how he handled it, with class. And for him to win, I was so thrilled. I mean, I love this person. He’s impeccable as a person. You won’t find a better teammate.
"And having said that, do I think it’s horrible that he left? I don’t think it’s good for basketball — but also, there’s not a player alive that controls his own destiny. Not one. If an owner wants to trade him, if a GM wants to trade him, they’re going to trade him regardless of what stature they might have.
"To blame it on the players…. no, it’s not fair.”
Cary EdmondsonCary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry West on the NBA Draft age requirement
“People are always talking about the age group of players, they wish they would stay in college. I wish they would stay in college one more year, because I think it would benefit them. It would also benefit the NBA.
"But I also think if you can send somebody into service and they can get killed at 18 years of age, why shouldn’t you be able to play basketball, your love? And if people think you’re good enough, so be it. It’s awkward. This whole thing is awkward. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world.
"I see agents dictating where players are going. To me, it’s despicable. But I’m not an agent, I just believe in the integrity of the game.”
Brad PennerBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry West on why the Lakers' offseason moves don't matter to the Clippers
Colin Cowherd: “The Lakers are in the news now… Paul George, Lonzo Ball. It sounds like things are bubbling.
"Do you feel pressure as, now, a member of the Clippers?
"…. Do the Laker moves at all, do they affect you today?”
Jerry West: “Well, what have they done? … I love Earvin Johnson, OK? I love him. I will admire him forever. But just because people do things doesn’t always make it right. How many times has the first player failed in the draft? Three times.
"Everyone gets excited about the draft. I’m excited even though the Clippers don’t have a draft pick at this point in time. Laker fans should be excited about it, they should be. But there’s so much more to this than meets the eye.
"You cannot control anything another organization does. You cannot. And I don’t really worry about the other teams. I’ve been fortunate enough to be with four great ownerships in my life.
"…. Steve Ballmer, I think he’s going to be one of the premier owners in the league. He’s not concerned about the Lakers, and I don’t think the Clippers should be concerned about the Lakers. Most important thing is to try to go out there and field a competitive team. But to say you feel the pressure? No.”
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry West on Chris Paul's future
Colin Cowherd: “Is Chris Paul the priority though?”
Jerry West: “Well, I’ve only been here a few days. I know how they value him, so obviously he would be a priority. Chris is one of my favorite players I’ve seen this in this league. He just plays the game, he’s an incredible defender, unbelievable competitor and everyone here is hopeful he comes back, for sure.
"But, here’s another case: The Clippers do not control their own destiny. They have Blake Griffin, Chris, J.J. Redick — so, back to the point you were talking about. My goodness, they’ve earned the right to be free agents. And I think you have to understand that that should be applauded because what the players’ association has done years ago and where they are today.”