Jerry West was the first brick.
It didn’t take long for Joe Lacob and Peter Guber to see what they were inheriting when they took ownership of the Warriors in November of 2010. They quickly discerned this franchise, toiling in the NBA doldrums for the better part of 20 years, needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
They went after West, an NBA legend as a player and unsurpassed in his success as an executive. Going after such a major figure meant the new owners were serious. West would give the Warriors instant credibility. Officially listed as an adviser and executive board member, he gave this fixer-upper of a franchise a solid foundation.
Six years and five consecutive playoff seasons later, West is ready to leave the Warriors. Not merely leave, but take his talents to the rival Los Angeles Clippers, as has been speculated for a couple weeks.
All that’s left to complete is the contractual fine print, according to multiple reports.
So why would West, two weeks after turning 79, depart the uber-successful Warriors for a team that is light years behind them on the NBA’s elite list?
West has a need to be needed. And in a brief conversation with NBCSportsBayArea.com earlier this month it was apparent he felt the Warriors were in about as good a place as they could possibly be. He gushed about the roster, about the “magnificent” Kevin Durant, about the “really strong” coaching staff, about the commitment of the owners.
Even before the Warriors finished the Cavaliers in five games to take the NBA Finals, West sounded like a man without a challenge.
Jerry West needs a challenge. Makes him feel alive. Makes him feel valuable.
He’ll get a challenge the minute he officially joins the Clippers.
Though they have been among the NBA’s better teams over the past six seasons, the Clippers during that time also have been the league’s most disappointing postseason team, bounced in the first round three times -- including the last two years -- and ousted in the second round the other three times.
They’ve changed coaches, from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers, who has been promoted twice and now also has the title of team president. They’ve even changed ownership, from the contemptible Donald Sterling to the fireball Steve Ballmer.
Through it all, despite All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have shown only flashes of promise -- consistently derailed by collapses.
This is enough to attract the interest of West, who commuted to Oakland several times a year but lives in Southern California.
If in the wake of the Warriors winning their second championship in three seasons West seemed particularly maudlin for someone not predisposed to such conduct, well, there was a reason. The man who was instrumental in the drafting of Klay Thompson, the decision to keep Thompson rather than trade him to for Kevin Love and also a voice in the recruitment of Durant was feeling he had done his work for the Warriors.
“I knew I was going to be leaving; I didn’t know what I was going to be leaving to,” West told ESPN on Wednesday. “Was this the end of me being productive? Every person is different in terms of their lives and how people age. I don’t feel old. I feel competitive.
“Sometimes, you need to be challenged. I’ve kind of been defiant my whole life, the way I was raised. And I think this is like the defiant streak in me. I don’t know.”
West becomes the second member of the Warriors brain trust to move on, as former assistant general manager Travis Schlenk left last month to become the GM of the Atlanta Hawks.