New Direction for West
Jerry West, barring an unexpected change of heart, will resign from the Lakers in late summer, sources said, ending one of the greatest runs for an executive in any sport ahead of his own original timetable.
West had said just before this season that he would retire when his contract expired in the summer of 1999. But his updated plans, which also do not rule out the possibility of working for another team after a one-year hiatus, have come amid concerns of what the workload and pressures mean to his health.
The head of basketball operations since 1982, first as general manager and for the last three seasons as executive vice president, West said before Friday’s Laker-Dallas Maverick game at the Great Western Forum that “I’m not there, no,” when asked if he has finalized plans to leave. League sources, however, said he has made a decision to retire as of Aug. 31.
And West left no doubt his future with the Lakers appears to be at an end. Asked if it was an accurate read that he was leaning toward a departure, he said:
“I think it’s accurate, yes. I think it’s accurate. But when I get to that point in time, everyone will know. To me, it’s not that big of a deal. It shouldn’t be interpreted any other way than me wanting to get away from it all.
“I don’t make emotional decisions. I make decisions after a terrible amount of time and a personal thought process: How is it going to affect me for the rest of my life? How is it going to affect my family and the people around me that I care about? All those questions have certainly entered my thought process.
“There’s one thing I want to emphasize. The one thing that has kept me going has been my relationship with Jerry Buss. He’s been strong, he’s been supportive. I just wish everybody in the sports business would have the opportunity to work with someone who’s as honest and candid and straightforward as he has been with me.
“There’s no animosity, no strained relationship with Jerry Buss, period. This certainly is not about money.”
What it appears to be about is lifestyle.
The strain of the job has always been obvious on West, a very emotional man by everyone’s description and an “obsessive-like person” by his own. He went stretches during the negotiations for Shaquille O’Neal--a process West called a major gamble because the Lakers had traded away Vlade Divac without any certainty that would get a new starting center in return--without eating or sleeping. He recalled thinking as the moment had come for O’Neal to make his decision between Los Angeles and staying in Orlando, with the parties gathered in an Atlanta hotel room days before the start of the 1996 Olympics, that a return to the Magic would have prompted West to jump out of the window. He was joking . . . probably.
“To be very candid with you, you hear people talk about burnout,” he said Oct. 27. “I know what that feels like because I put so much pressure [on myself], I do take it personally. I take it way too personally. And I know what it feels like.”
Friday, sitting in the office he sometimes retires to when watching games from the tunnel by the Forum club becomes too stressful, he said:
“I just think for me, I never thought doing something you love could interfere with the normal functions we have in our lives. I’m talking health.
“I have this enormous passion for winning. It almost becomes a sickness--How can I get one more player? It’s not good for me and it’s not good for the people around me.”
Of course, there’s nothing to suggest the retired life will be a haven, not with the needle having always pushed into the red. West turns 60 on May 28, still has two sons living at home and doesn’t much like the idea of his youngest, a 9-year-old, not seeing his father hard at work every day.
So he wonders himself. But with an asterisk:
There could be a difference between what he’ll be doing and permanent retirement.
“I would feel like a traitor working for anyone but the Lakers,” West said. “But to say that would change after a year, I don’t know that.”
It will almost certainly be left to General Manager Mitch Kupchak to continue what West has put in place. Kupchak signed a six-year contract extension last month that, while it remains uncertain whether it contains a specific clause that West’s top lieutenant automatically gets the promotion, at the very least makes Kupchak a continued and prominent presence.
“I would just say that obviously I feel that my future is in Los Angeles,” Kupchak said at the time.
West, in his 16th season, has the NBA’s second-longest active tenure for head of basketball operations, trailing only Jerry Colangelo of the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers have won three championships in that time and made seven trips to the finals, and he was selected by peers as executive of the year in 1994-95.
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THE BOOK ON WEST
Head coach: 1976-79
Laker record in the period: 145-101, .589
Special consultant: 1979-82
General manager: 1982-94
Executive vice president: 1995-98
BY THE NUMBERS
Laker record from 1982-98: 872-438, .666 (Best in the NBA)
Averaged victories per season: 55
NBA finals appearances: 7
Named NBA executive of the year after 1994-95 season
KEY PERSONNEL DECISIONS
Oct. 16, 1983: Traded Norm Nixon and Eddie Jordan to San Diego for Swen Nater and Byron Scott.
Feb. 13, 1987: Traded Frank Brickowski, Petur Gudmundsson and two draft choices to San Antonio for Mychal Thompson.
July 11, 1996: Traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for Kobe Bryant
July 18, 1996: Signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal
KEY DRAFT CHOICES
1982--James Worthy, first overall pick
1985--A.C. Green, 23rd overall pick
1989--Vlade Divac, 26th overall pick
1990--Elden Campbell, 27th overall pick
1993--Nick Van Exel, 37th overall pick
1994--Eddie Jones, 10th overall pick