I’m not asking West to come back and run the team on a day-to-day basis or replace either Kupchak or Jim. He turns 76 at the end of May and probably doesn’t want to. I want him to continue golfing at Riviera whenever he wants to. I want him to be involved as much as he desires. At the bare minimum, show up to one weekly staff meeting and answer the phone when Jim, Jeanie, or Mitch need the opinion of someone who has probably seen it all.
Even though the Lakers current basketball problems are aplenty, it would be fair to say that the franchise is currently drama-free, at least when compared to most recent seasons. Jim and Jeanie have done a nice job over the past month of letting the fans know that they are on the same page with regards to their working relationship and the distribution of responsibilities.
It’s no secret that one of the reasons that West left the Lakers in 2000 was because he was uneasy with the relationship between Phil and Jeanie. The theory is that West didn’t think he could ever convince Dr. Buss to side with him if there was ever an issue between he and Jackson. West and Phil never had a social relationship. Not only did Phil make a habit of ignoring him, he also kicked West and Kupchak out of the locker room after a playoff game. According to West’s autobiography West By West, one of the reasons he left the team was he began to feel “under-appreciated and undervalued.” With Jackson having just signed a four-year deal to become president of the New York Knicks, West wouldn’t have to constantly feel the presence of Phil or his shadow.
The Lakers explanation as to why they didn’t hire Phil to work in their front office was that they didn’t have a place for him. That’s true. Phil wanted to build his own roster and the Lakers already have someone who does that. West isn’t looking for that at this point. He hasn’t been the person responsible for building Golden State’s roster, but considering the Lakers historical emphasis on both the center position and on team defense, I don’t doubt for a second that he had input in the decisions to trade Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut and to use two future first-round picks to help free up the cap space to sign Andre Igoudala last last year.
While I can’t speak or even theorize on how receptive Jim Buss would be to a West homecoming, Mark Heisler has written that Jim was supposed to apprentice under West in the late 90s, but he didn’t take the job seriously at the time. You can’t say the same about Jim now. He’s now one of the team’s owners.
As for Kupchak, he and West are still very close. According to a recent story by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, “When Jerry West left the Lakers in 2000, Kupchak described him as “my mentor, my guiding light, my best friend.” In addition to that, Jerry’s son Ryan, 34, has been scouting for the Lakers since 2001, and shares an office with Jesse Buss.
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