(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
As one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, Jerry West knew when he was done. He recognized that his game was slipping and got out while he was still better than most everyone else.
The Logo had enough sense to know that if he stuck around and forced it, he would eventually become a detriment to his team. So, he got while the gettin’ was good.
As the General Manager for the Los Angeles Lakers, he used shrewd moves and an unequaled eye for talent to build championship teams.
With a Hall of Fame core of Shaquille O’ Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson in place to keep the Lakers on top, he got while the gettin’ was good.
If only he would have done the same as GM of the Memphis Grizzlies.
West co-orchestrated the biggest trade in NBA history this week, a trade involving five teams and 13 players that showed just how far his executive skills have slipped after once being considered the brightest mind in the game.
The Grizzlies season of dismemberment began a month or so ago when the tepid Stromile Swift signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Rockets. Which was ok, because he was consistently inconsistent – even though he’ll probably become an All-Star in Houston.
Then Malcontent A: Bonzi Wells, was essentially traded for oft-injured Bobby Jackson and two stiffs from Utah who’ll never suit up in Shelby County.
Which again, was ok. Wells has a pretty good game, but that is counterbalanced by the inevitable killing spree that’s bound to happen.
When Jackson was traded for, I knew it was coming. And it was made all the more certain when rumors started to float that West was close to signing Damon Stoudemire of Portland.
Tuesday night it happened. I surfed over to ESPN.com where I read the news (oh, boy) that Memphis had given up (on) Malcontent B: Jason Williams, James Posey, and the promising Andre Emmett for Eddie Jones.
I flipped out.
Three young players with talent for a role player who can’t create his own shot.
Now I’m one of the few that seem to believe in Williams. Other than Pat Riley and Shaq. J-Will wants to win, and unfortunately, he tends to pout when things don’t go his way. And because of that he unfairly gets painted as a bad boy troublemaker with a combative attitude toward coaches and media.
Sure, he could exercise better judgment, but after all, he’s only 27 and he has WHITE BOY tattooed on his fingers. I guarantee that Williams will take his 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio to Miami and be an integral part of the Heat winning it all next year.
Just like Posey who, coincidentally, was probably West’s best coup as GM of the Grizz. Posey is one of those do everything, do the little things type of players who always come up with loose balls and clutch buckets. Not to mention he is an excellent defender.
I guess the trade-off is supposed to be Jones. His career has gotten new life as a 3-point bombing, defensive specialist. But his skills are on the decline. His steals per season have went down since his career best (3 pg) in ‘98-‘99 and even with Shaq commanding constant double teams he couldn’t crack the top 50 in 3-point field goal percentage last year. He’ll be fighting for fourth best on the Grizz with Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal.
Stoudemire will be the replacement for Williams. Remember Stoudemire is the brainiac who thought it was a good idea to smuggle weed wrapped in aluminum foil through an airport metal detector.
Williams shot a better percentage from the floor, even though Stoudemire averaged more points. He also averaged more turnovers and isn’t anywhere close to J-Will’s assists per 48 minutes, which is ranked fifth best in the NBA at nine per.
So, it boils down to a shoot-first turnover prone point guard who’s four years older and makes Chong look like Steven Hawking, for a point who takes care of the ball, takes good shots, and gets upset when he loses. If I can see this, why can’t West?
And if Jackson’s healthy enough to even play half of the season, is he going to be content to backup Stonedmire?
Add to this ugliness the fact that the Grizz are openly shopping center Lorenzen Wright. Wright’s just the second hardest worker on the team (next to my man Battier) and a Memphis native.
Wright is unhappy that the Grizzlies are leaving him hanging on his contract. He feels underappreciated and has demanded a trade to a team that will value what he brings to the table.
Maybe West is secretly sabotaging the Grizzlies in order to make his old pals Pat Riley and Shaq happy. I can’t think of another logical reason.
The Heat are the winners in all this, especially when you consider they also signed Antoine Walker.
One other thing is for certain: The Grizzlies aren’t any better than when they were swept out of the playoffs for a record second straight season last May.
In fact, they’re worse. If only West would have treated Memphis the way he treated Los Angeles and got while the gettin’ was good.