Aside from his stellar front office work with the Lakers (which resulted in eight NBA titles), it was West who helped build the Memphis Grizzlies (after they relocated from Vancouver) and advised the Warriors not to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love.
It was West who, fresh on the job, pushed the Clippers to trade Blake Griffin last season, which opened cap space.
Naturally, West downplays his role. He says the Clippers are set in the front office with basketball ops president Lawrence Frank calling the shots (with help from Michael Winger and Trent Redden) and Doc Rivers as coach. He saves his biggest applause for Ballmer, though, and said the NBA’s wealthiest owner will have the biggest sway this summer when the Clippers chase a superstar.
“I think everyone talks about his money when they speak about him,” West said. “I found him one of the most unique people I’ve been around. He’s a people person, a man of the people. It’s a breath of fresh air to be around him. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with some outstanding people and leaders who were really good, but this guy’s at the top of the list.
“He embraces the people and wants to learn and is great with our front office, with Lawrence and our coaches. I don’t see any flaws with him as an owner. I wish all owners could be like him.”
West says Ballmer has created a culture that impacts every corner of the franchise. These aren’t your father’s Clippers, nor the one that employed West’s close friend and former teammate, Elgin Baylor.
“We have competitive people in our front office,” West said. “And Steve is as competitive as it comes. And that’s why I’m hopeful we can show (free agents) to look at what’s been accomplished in a short time with him as an owner and a lot of the basketball people we have involved, along with Doc’s resume, Lawrence’s resume and how people are treated here.”
West gushes with praise over the job Rivers has done, too. He got 48 wins from a team that lacked an All-Star and shifted gears mid-season by trading top scorer Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Doc’s been phenomenal,” West said. “He’s got a bunch of guys believing in themselves in order to win as many games as we did. I always try to predict before the season in my own mind how many games we can win, and I was off by some. Usually I’m not off by very many. It has been amazing, really fun.
“When you see people competing and playing hard and believing in practice, it has an enormous amount of what happens during the games. I’m thrilled for Doc. A season like this has to be very rewarding.”
‘Cap space is fool’s gold’
The Clippers find themselves in an interesting position, as they could sign two free agents to near-max contracts. Already, they have a solid core in Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet and Pat Beverley (should he re-sign). Plus, of course, there are the charms of living and working in Los Angeles.
Is this enough to get a Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant and/or Jimmy Butler and/or Kemba Walker? The Clippers may never be in this great of a position again. West, however, throws caution to the wind.
“Cap space is fool’s gold,” he said. “We have to spend it wisely or not spend it. One of the two.
“Again, it starts with ownership. A lot of people talk about free agency. You have to have a compelling reason for somebody to come to you. With the enormous amount of money that players have today obviously that’s good, but the top free agents want more. We’re obviously in the position to do something but we have to make a compelling case for people. It’s nice to be one of the teams in that position, but we have to make a case going forward.”
The Clippers are sitting on a potential gold mine … if they manage it correctly. The Harris trade fetched the Miami Heat’s unprotected No. 1 pick in 2021. That pick is projected to be very attractive because of the Heat’s salary-cap situation and unknown desire to rebuild quickly. They also have the Sixers’ 2020 first-round pick (which is protected). Could those picks plus some Clippers players be used in potential trades (for maybe Anthony Davis)?
“We have a lot of assets to work with, Draft picks that are very attractive,” West said.