Transparency, humility and bravery are three great tastes that often go together. And former Lakers and Grizzlies GM Jerry West is cornering the market on all three with his latest comments.
(He's also cornering the market on whining a bit and odd, hard-to-qualify rankings regarding an NBA team's drafting capabilities, but we'll get to that in a bit.)
In a candid interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, West had this to say about his turn during the 2002 draft, one that saw him choose Drew Gooden(notes) over, among others, Amar'e Stoudemire(notes):
The year we drafted Drew Gooden. He has been in the league a long time. But we could have had Amar'e Stoudemire. He would have added some cache and star power to this team. It's not that Drew is a bad player but Stoudemire is a star. We didn't look at him the way we should have. And you know, everyone thinks the Grizzlies have done a terrible job drafting and they haven't. The Griz are ranked ninth in drafting in terms of their history. But I'll always take the blame for players who didn't turn out the way we would have liked. Overall, fans can be very critical and it's easy to be critical. But they're not as critical as those of us who work in these positions.
This is where I have to defend West, as someone who covered that draft, and even live-blogged it, way back before the term "live blog" was coined. And who the hell coined that?
Gooden, despite some goofball interviews he gave at Kansas, was wildly considered to be your next sometimes-All-Star/all-around big forward stud. A guy to rely on for 19 and 10 throughout his career. Nobody thought that eight years later, he'd be suiting up for his ninth team.
Amar'e was supposed to be the goofball. The guy who couldn't stay at the same high school for more than a couple of months, and the guy that was jumping from high school to the pros a year after that trend was celebrated to a ridiculous degree with the top-five selections of Kwame Brown(notes), Tyson Chandler(notes) and Eddy Curry(notes) in the 2001 draft. All three struggled, terribly, and 2002 was thought to be a return to orthodoxy. Like, drafting potential 20 and 10 guys from Kansas. Or point guards of the future, from Duke. Or whatever the hell they thought Mike Dunleavy Jr. was going to be.
I scouted Amar'e in high school, and while he clearly had talent and gifts, there was nothing there that told you that after precious little coaching he would take to a league like the NBA and play as he did (13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in just 31 minutes a game) in 2002-03. Nobody was calling for Stoudemire to go to the Grizzlies at fourth overall. Nobody. And take it from someone who was paying attention, only Brad Rock of the Deseret News (writing for Lindy's) ranked Stoudemire as his preseason Rookie of the Year entering 2002-03.
Where West doesn't get off so cleanly is with this line:
The Griz are ranked ninth in drafting in terms of their history.
What does that even mean? No source? No methods? No reasoning behind it? Just "ranked ninth," and that's it? Can a team that was founded in 1995 be ranked ninth in anything?
Can a team that drafted Antonio Daniels(notes), Bryant Reeves and Troy Bell (OK, West traded for Troy Bell on draft night, the same night he drafted Cezary Trybański) be ranked anything higher than 29th?
West also loses points for this:
My biggest disappointments came when we were in position in the lottery to get a franchise player and we never got one. I think the lottery is flawed. If we would have gotten a branded player, this franchise would have been much further along and they still would have Pau Gasol(notes) there. It's so much easier to build when you have two really good players. I think about the time when it came down to us for one of the first two picks. There was LeBron James(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes) and we didn't get any of them.
He's still whining about the 2003 lottery, one that saw the Grizzlies enter with an unprotected lottery pick, after years of protection, that the Detroit Pistons gladly snapped up the rights to once Memphis came up second in that May's drawing.
When he took the gig in 2002, Jerry West knew about Stu Jackson's moronic 1997 deal with Detroit for Otis Thorpe, and that it would likely cost him a chance at one of the better selections in one of his upcoming drafts. He knew all about it, and while it's a little unfair to be submarined by Jackson's terrible tenure with the Grizzlies, but that's part of the gig, and nobody forced him to sign up for it. And it's far from "unfair," especially when you're handed the keys to a Pau Gasol upon taking the job, a gift from former GM Billy Knight.
This doesn't mean West was terrible as a GM, or a whiner, or the most honest man on the planet thanks to his mea culpa in the MCA. It just means that sometimes NBA followers need a little catch-up help when a legend decides to leave things in or out of an interview.