Jerry West Leaving As Grizzlies Exec

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By TERESA M. WALKER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 8:12 PM

-- Jerry West left retirement and the comforts of California to see if he could transform the woeful Memphis Grizzlies. Five years later, the Lakers great decided to stop trying.

He said Tuesday he will leave as the Grizzlies' director of basketball operations July 1 at the end of his contract. Injuries, losses, weariness and uncertainty became too much.

"I'm not a youngster anymore," said West, who turns 69 next month.

West oversaw the Grizzlies' only three playoff berths, although he never got to enjoy a postseason victory. This season, there were problems on several fronts: The Grizzlies not only had the worst record in the NBA but were up for sale.

West said "the wear and tear of the season, particularly like this," took a toll.

"There's been a lot of turmoil here," he said. "The ownership thing have made it very difficult to concentrate on what we need to do here to improve our basketball team."

Billionaire owner Michael Heisley said Monday night the team will be off the market if a viable offer doesn't come by May 1.

West, whose silhouette from his playing days forms the NBA logo, disclosed his plans during a 20-minute session with reporters. But his departure had been the worst kept secret in Memphis, with his contract up after this season. He put his 18-room home up for sale in February, calling that a "downsizing" move after his son left for college.

West is staying through June 30 and will advise Heisley on his replacement and a new coach and in a draft that could deliver 7-foot center Greg Oden or college player of the year Kevin Durant. Then he said he would be open to working as a consultant.

"We need a big tough rebounder, and there's a kid who's a big tough rebounder in this draft who played on great teams," West said. "That's one of the things we need. We need to upgrade our backcourt. ... You need a leader back there."

Heisley brought in West in April 2002. But West never had the advantages he enjoyed in the large market of Los Angeles, where he signed Shaquille O'Neal and traded Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant.

He was hamstrung at the start by bad moves from the team's early days. The Grizzlies landed the No. 2 pick overall in the 2003 draft. West never got to decide between Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade because that pick went to Detroit to complete a 1997 trade.

His biggest deal? Ridding the Grizzlies of Jason Williams in a five-team trade in August 2005. His trade of Shane Battier to Houston for rookie Rudy Gay shows promise.

"We've got some very good players," he said. "Pau Gasol is an All-Star, but we need a superstar. And if that doesn't turn the people on, then I wouldn't know what would do that."

West lured Hubie Brown out of TV and to the bench. Brown won NBA coach of the year honors with 50 wins in 2004, the year West was honored as the league's executive of the year.

When Brown retired unexpectedly, West replaced him with Mike Fratello. But the Grizzlies were swept out of the playoffs in 2004, 2005 and 2006. They started a youth movement to rebuild and save money.

West fired Fratello in December and replaced him with Tony Barone Sr. after the worst start in the NBA. It didn't help. The Grizzlies, 21-60 entering Wednesday night's finale at Minnesota, clinched the worst record in the league last week and their poorest victory total under West.

Not easy for someone who never handled losing well, whether as a two-time All-American at West Virginia or player, executive or general manager for the Lakers, where he won a combined eight titles.

"We're probably better off where we are, even though it was painful for everyone and our fans, walking out of here some nights when we were just horrendous," West said. "It was painful for everyone to watch that."

West said he thinks Heisley needs two people to replace him: a general manager and a vice president of basketball operations. As for the next coach, West wouldn't name names, but a possibility could be Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni.

In any case, West said the next coach needs to know the franchise must work to build a team for years, not make the playoffs one season, then have the league's worst record the next.

"We were going nowhere with the team we had," West said. "We could not continue to do what we did."

In the end, neither could he.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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