When “The Logo” speaks, you listen.
Jerry West has built on his legacy on the court by a legendary track record off it. This is the man who created the idea of clearing cap room for a big-name free agent — look at what he did in the year preceding the team’s acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. This is the man who saw a volatile teenager from Philadelphia and saw greatness within him (that was Kobe Bryant, by the way).
He built a team that won three straight championships and was in the front office to build Showtime and those championship runs. Then you have the work he did in Memphis building a playoff team around Pau Gasol.
You felt every time you traded with him, he knew something you didn’t and was pulling the wool over your eyes.
So when Jerry West, now a special adviser for the Warriors, gives advice to today’s general managers on what he would do, you take it as gospel.
“I honestly think I’d call their bluff,” West said in an interview on a Los Angeles radio station last week. “I really would, because I don’t think any agent or player is going to leave $30 million on the table. I just don’t believe that’s going to happen.
“If I were an executive on a team where a player says he’s going to leave, let him leave. It would be better than saddling yourself with a bunch of players that are not going to fit in to what you’re trying to do — high-salaried players, in many cases overpaid players by today’s standards, that would burden you going forward. I’d almost rather start over again myself. You’re not going to replace that player, but there’s an enormous penalty there and it looks like to me like the inmates are running the asylum if you let that happen.”
Let that be a lesson to you Otis Smith, Billy King, Dan Gilbert and whoever else is facing a star’s imminent departure.
The round of superstar players hitting free agency has been preceded for a year or somtimes two of speculation that the team will move the player out rather than risk losing him for nothing. It might be the hyper-intense scrutiny that a 24-hour news hole creates, or some apocalyptic post-Decision world that seems to have general managers around the league shaking and rushing a decision to trade their star players to get something, anything in return.
The going philosophy among general managers is to get as much value as you can out of your superstars in a trade before seeing them walk in free agency for nothing. That probably contributes to the hoopla surrounding the run-up to free agency.
The old guard, like Jerry West, is not used to having superstars hold teams hostage like this for years at a time. The old way was to build a team through drafting and free agency was the method to add role players and the other parts of the team necessary for a championship.
If a star left, you had to suffer through bad years to amass the lottery picks necessary for a championship.
This, of course, is not the math for every team.
Orlando is supposedly looking for veterans so the team can remain competitive if they trade Dwight Howard. Utah last year traded Deron Williams for Devin Harris, along with former lottery picks, to avoid the free agent debacle that New Jersey is suffering through this year.
The fallout in Utah, which claimed the long tenure of Jerry Sloan and the eventual dissolution of that Jazz team, brought up a war of words between Karl Malone and Jazz ownership. Malone was extremely critical of the way the Jazz handled the Sloan firing and Williams trade, feeling that the Williams’ scenario cost the legendary coach his job. That might be a half truth or pure speculation from someone outside the organization.
The thing is, though, superstars have always controlled their fate with franchises.
Wilt Chamberlain forced his way from the Warriors to the 76ers when the Warriors moved west. He then forced his way to Los Angeles soon after. The Cincinnati Royals got tired of dealing with Oscar Robertson’s moodiness all the time and shipped him to Milwaukee. He won a title with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem wanted more and forced his way to Los Angeles.
The stories go on and on with superstars.
Jerry West and some of the old guard might be living in a dream world where the past is always better than the present. The fact of the matter is, the media attention on free agency might be higher but how superstars behave and move between teams really has not.