The play on the court and the results in the standings hardly match what Jerry West once expected when he constructed the Lakers.
But in a recent appearance on “The Dan Patrick Show,” West pleaded patience surrounding the Lakers’ struggles that include a missed playoff appearance, an injury-riddled roster and an embattled coach in Mike D’Antoni.
“This is not the most talented team I’ve seen. But this team has played really hard this year,” said West, who has had a consulting role with the Golden State Warriors for the past three seasons. “It’s easy to criticize when you’re on the sidelines to criticize. It’s easy for fans, particularly players and ex-players to rant and criticize everything they do over there. But it doesn’t help.”
That’s why West hardly sounded thrilled that Kobe Bryant spent last week questioning Lakers management. He specifically called for executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship. Bryant argued the Lakers need to decide whether they keep coach Mike D’Antoni. Bryant challenged the Lakers to build a championship roster for next season.
West has always looked at Bryant in endearing terms, remembering how a pre-draft workout at 17 years old convinced the former Lakers executive to trade Vlade Divac to Charlotte to secure the rights to draft Bryant nearly 18 years ago. West also has proclaimed Bryant as the greatest Laker. He pinned Bryant’s injury plagued season as a huge variable explaining the Lakers’ current struggles.
But West sounded like a disapproving parent in assessing Bryant’s strategy to question Lakers management publicly.
“I really don’t want to get into that. But if I were a player I would never say a word,” West said. “You’d like things to be like they were before. But time changes everything. Leadership changes everything. Jerry Buss was a great leader, but he also had the benefit of having some incredible players. They don’t have that kind of talent there today. People should let them try to rework this franchise and give them the opportunity without the constant criticism.”
There’s been plenty of criticism.
The Lakers have an assembled roster filled with role players that lacked significant opportunities elsewhere. The Lakers’ post players remain frustrated D’Antoni doesn’t feature them prominently, while perimeter players gush over the opportunities he’s granted them. Doubt persists on whether the Lakers can rebuild quickly because of the shortage of quality of free agents and the more restrictive penalties for high spending teams. Of course, Phil Jackson’s departure to the New York Knicks to oversee the front office marks the second time the Lakers let him walk away without having involvement. The first time entailed the Lakers passing him up in favor of D’Antoni to replace Mike Brown five games into last season. The second time entailed the Lakers refusing to let Jackson have a role in the team’s basketball operations.
West and Jackson never got along. As detailed in his autobiography, West revealed a widely-reported story that Jackson once ordered him out of the locker room using a string of expletives in his first season in the 1999-2000 campaign. West left following that year in part because of Jackson’s relationship with the team’s current president Jeanie Buss. But after helping the Lakers to win five NBA championships in two separate terms, West praised Jackson.
“Anyone who has coached as many teams to world championships will get an enormous amount of credit, a lot of credit and rightfully so,” West said. “But if he didn’t have the talent there that he had, he wouldn’t have won that many championships here in Los Angeles. He had incredible talent. But to say another coach could have done it, that wouldn’t have been the truth. You can’t look at this resume and be critical of him.”
But plenty are looking at the Lakers’ resume and remain critical of theirs.
“The fans in Los Angeles have been unbelievably blessed and now they don’t like it when when they’re not playing the way they should,” West said. “They don’t have enough talent. Without Kobe Bryant, they don’t have someone to drive the player that they have.”
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