Sports

How Jerry West Saved the Golden State Warriors

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May 19, 2011 came and went without huge fanfare. Like so many other seasons for the Golden State Warriors, the year had finished a month earlier without any real chance of a playoff appearance. Golden State went 36-46 and missed the postseason by 10 games. New owners had recently bought the Warriors, but the results were predictably the same. Golden State has missed the playoffs four straight years, and had found themselves in the lottery 16 times in the previous 17 seasons. Then May 19 came. Suddenly the Warriors were relevant and competitive, but nobody knew it yet.

Besides drafting Stephen Curry seventh overall in 2009, the NBA Draft had been a nightmare for Golden State dating back to their second round selection of Gilbert Arena in 2001. In 2002 they selected Mike Dunleavy third overall. They drafted 11th in 2003 and 2004 and added Mickael Pietrus and  Andris Biedrins. In 2005 and 2006 they picked at number nine and selected Ike Diogu and Patrick O'Bryant. Their 2007 first rounder was Marco Belinelli. In 2008 they snatched Anthony Randolph at number 14 in the opening round. After grabbing Curry in 2009, Ekpe Udoh was chosen sixth in 2010. Then May 19 came.

Jerry West is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He won Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors despite losing in the NCAA Title Game. He won a NBA Finals MVP, All Star Game MVP, and scored 25,000 points before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Besides coaching the Lakers for a brief time, he ran the team's front office for 18 years and helped win four NBA Titles. He took over a Memphis franchise in 2002 that had never made the playoffs and earned three straight trips to the postseason. There is a reason his image is the NBA's logo. On May 19 West was hired by Golden State in a “wide-ranging capacity.”

West had a hand in Golden State drafting Klay Thompson 11th overall in 2011. Thompson was picked after Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette. He was picked prior to Alec Burks.

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While the Warriors went 23-43 in 2011-2012, it was one of their most productive seasons among a large group of losing years. Not only did they trade talented but undersized shoot-first guard Monta Ellis for injured but productive big man Andrew Bogut, but they also tanked like crazy down the stretch. Trading a healthy Ellis for Bogut, who was out for the season, was just the start of making sure that they lost as many games as possible down the stretch. The Warriors lost 10 of their last 11 games to finish the season with the seventh worst record in the league. Golden State had traded their first round draft pick in 2012 to the Nets for Marcus Williams back in 2008, but got to keep their selection if it was among the top seven picks. When nobody jumped them in the lottery, they were able to land Harrison Barnes.

In addition to Barnes they added Richardson Jefferson, and his overpriced contract, in a trade with San Antonio that netted them an extra first round pick. With it they added Bogut's backup Festus Ezeli. Early in the second round Golden State drafted Draymond Green. And that wasn't the end of the off-season.

The Warriors continued their unusually shrewd maneuvering by signing Carl Landry in free agency, and orchestrating a three way trade that sent Dorrell Wright to Philadelphia and brought the Warriors Jarrett Jack from New Orleans.

West should not get all of the kudos. Former sports agent turned front office executive Bob Myers, Golden State's general manager, has earned all of the credit he has received. So too should majority owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber be applauded. They took over a bad, cheap franchise in 2010 and oversaw changes and injected the franchise with money and hope. That being said, without adding West, it is unlikely Golden State would be locked a two all series with San Antonio during the second round of this year’s playoffs. It is the Warriors deepest run in the playoffs since 1977. That was the same year West joined the Lakers.