Nobody is harder on Jerry West than Jerry West.
Nobody. Read the brilliant biography by Roland Lazenby and you get the portrait of a man haunted by failure and more relieved than joyous about success.
So when you ask West about his time as the head of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball side and ask if there are regrets, you get some, as he told the Commercial Appeal. He said his biggest mistake was in the draft.
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.
That was a mistake. West made other mistakes. But the Grizzlies were in the playoffs when he was there, they haven’t been the same before or after he left. But luck — specifically lottery luck — has not followed the Grizzlies.
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 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 and Carmelo Anthony and we didn’t get any of them. The other time (in 2007) when we could have gotten a good player, Al Horford would have been great next to Gasol. And let me tell you, Mike Conley is going to be OK. He’s going to be in the NBA for 12-14 years. But that’s the one thing we missed: somebody who played the game at a high level and became a branded player. Those are people that brand your team and help franchises win.
West and I can agree to disagree about Conley panning out, although most people thought he would be better coming out of college than he has turned out to be.
But the larger point stands. It takes more than just brains to win out, it takes brains and luck. West only had one of those.