When the Los Angeles Clippers announced the hiring of Jerry West to an advisory position with the franchise, many lauded the move. After all, the venerable Hall of Famer has had a role in building championship rosters with the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. But bringing in the 79-year-old West wasn’t some coup by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, it was nothing more than a desperate move made by a desperate franchise.
The Clippers face a major crossroads this offseason. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick headed into free agency, the Clippers could wind up losing the backbone of their team. And even if all three guys somehow return, Los Angeles’ second-class hoops squad isn’t anywhere close to competing with the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or Houston Rockets in the Western Conference. Heck, even the Utah Jazz appear poised to surpass the Clips.
Basically, the Clippers options this summer are to bring their guys back and stay mediocre, or blow it up and start a rebuild with nothing more than DeAndre Jordan and two wildly overpaid guys in Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers attempting to help out. Crawford and Rivers are set to make a ridiculous $53.22 million combined over the next two seasons thanks to Doc Rivers’ genius moves as general manager.
So there are absolutely no good options for the franchise right now, and adding Jerry West isn’t going to alter that equation one bit.
If the Clippers do re-sign Paul (as they are favored to do), he would be eligible for a five-year, $205 million super-max deal. Under that kind of agreement, the team would be stuck paying a 36-year-old Paul more than $40 million in the final year of his contract. I like Chris Paul and think he’s an all-time great point guard, but I don’t like him that much. That kind of deal would all but prevent the team from finding other key pieces to help Paul in the future.
West can’t really do much to alter the Clippers’ current situation. And anyway, his value has never been an ability to work magic in free agency, it has been in identifying talent via the draft. There’s just one problem there: the Clippers have traded away their first-round picks in both the 2017 and 2019 drafts, and also gave up their 2017 and 2018 second-rounders. So…yeah, Jerry is not going to have much to do on that front any time soon.
After his arrival in 2011, West did a great job in pushing the Warriors to draft both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Those were his two big contributions during his time there, along with arguing against sending Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. Thompson fits Stephen Curry’s game perfectly and without Green, the Dubs don’t win either of their two championships. But it’s not like West constructed that entire roster on his own.
Somehow The Logo also been essentially credited with “discovering” Kobe Bryant because of a pre-draft workout. That would be a great story, if it wasn’t a complete myth. Yes, the workout convinced West that Bryant was going to be a star, but at the time 90 percent of NBA executives believed that. Many just weren’t willing to be patient and let the high schooler grow into his potential. But hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Bryant was nationally famous for more than a year before he was drafted. I mean, he took Brandy to his senior prom, that’s not something a random local high school basketball star from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania gets to do. West’s true contribution was convincing the Charlotte Hornets to send Bryant’s rights to Los Angeles in exchange for Vlade Divac on draft night. A move that still ranks as one of the most lopsided trades in sports history.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting West’s ability to identify talent. He has always been great at finding good young players. But the Clippers have essentially hired a draft guru when they won’t be in position to draft anyone. If they wind up keeping their core together, it’s a group that finished fourth in the Western Conference this season. That means they would likely be drafting in the 20s in the 2018 NBA Draft when they finally have a first-round pick. Even West won’t be able to do much with that.
This summer the absolute best-case scenario for the Clippers is retaining their core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan. And that so-called “big three” has never even reached the Western Conference Finals. That’s not a good spot for a franchise to be in. And the worst-case? Well, that would be Paul jumping ship to the Spurs, Griffin bolting to the Boston Celtics and all the available free agents opting out of signing with a team that plays second-fiddle in its own city.
Let’s face it, despite being the better team for five years, the Clippers are still the “other” NBA franchise in Los Angeles. That’s not going to change any time soon. Not even with one of the most famous Lakers of all-time on board as an adviser.