Talking Jerry West, part two

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Roland Lazenby, one of the best basketball writers of our time, has penned a new book: Jerry West, the life and legend of a basketball icon.

West is one of the most compelling and complex figures in basketball, and the book is a detailed look at the conditions that formed him and how that affected him as a player and general manager..

Lazenby was kind enough to spend some time answering questions about West for us, and this is the second installment of a two-part interview with him (read the first part here).

The general perception of West is as this very successful person. He won an NBA championship, a gold medal, one of the 50 greatest players of all time. But that is not how West saw himself, he was driven more by his failures than his success, wasn’t he?

Pete Newell, who coached against him in the NCAA championship game in 1959 and later coached him on that famed 1960 Olympics team that won the gold medal in Rome… West wanted to quit (the Olympic) team, he didn’t think he was good enough to be there. And Newell was just flabbergasted. You could see he was going to be this all time great player, he was this tremendous, tremendous competitor, but he was almost paralyzed at times by these inferiority complexes.

This is something that Newell contemplated for a long time. Newell later became the GM of the Lakers during West’s playing career… but Newell said you really had to look into West’s background in West Virginia to start to understand why he was so complex… That’s what I try to do with the book.

A lot of great players struggle to the next phase of their lives. West, however, was able to be successful as a GM. Why was he able to transition?

I think one of the factors was he played along side Elgin Baylor. That was a tremendous benefit because he learned a lot from him. Someone who took the pressure off. Jerry grew to intensely dislike his coach, his college coach from West Virginia went to the Lakers as Jerry did. Jerry had already played three years for him and that started to wear down on the relationship, then he went on to play six more seasons, almost 1,000 games, for Fred Schaus.

But Jerry was beset by doubt and anxiety, and Schaus decided not to start him as a rookie. And this is the thing that really clinched Jerry’s long term dislike of Fred Schaus. It was a hard thing because Oscar Robertson had come into the league — Oscar was the number one pick, Jerry number two — and Jerry wanted to be a starter. In fact, when was the last time a rookie substitute was named to the All-Star Team?…

I think he enjoyed (being a general manager). He obviously loved basketball. I think he loved the players with all his heart. And I think being a general manager gave him the chance to address all those things that annoyed him so much as a player and coach… They were always down a player, maybe more, in their battles with the Celtics. And there was nobody at the Lakers (front office) who really cared. Jerry, by nature of his presence, changed that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.

Isaiah Thomas rewarded on epic flop with offensive foul call vs. Heat

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Why do NBA players flop on defense? Because it works.

While there is less of it than there was a couple of years back — when the NBA made a big show about calling more flops and warning (then eventually fining players a pittance) for the move — it still exists. Case in point, this impressive one from Isaiah Thomas of the Lakers on Tyler Johnson of the Heat Friday night (hat tip AminElHassavag at NBA Reddit).

Was there a little contact, sure, but Thomas fell back like he was shot by the second gunman on the grassy knoll. He exaggerated the contact, which is the definition of flopping. Thing is, he got the call (the ref who made the call, from his position, might only have seen the contact and not necessarily the extent of exaggeration, but that’s where the other officials need to step in).

Not that everything went Thomas’ way Friday night.