In his 18 months on the job Grizzlies president Jerry West has
turned a woeful roster into one of the league's deepest, steered
the team clear of the luxury tax and helped the franchise set a
record for wins (28), which it will likely surpass this season.
But the clock is ticking fast: League sources say that while West
earns more than $7 million annually and is the NBA's highest-paid
executive, he'll retire at age 68 rather than extend his
Memphis's fortunes are bound to improve: Coach Hubie Brown, one
of the best teachers in the NBA, is molding 11 players who each
have fewer than five years experience, including forward Pau
Gasol and swingman Mike Miller, both recent Rookies of the Year.
West has been acquiring young talent to make a major trade down
the road; in the first round of the June draft he took point
guard Troy Bell and shooting guard Dahntay Jones even though he's
well-stocked at each position. "We need a great player," says
But while he was able to entice free agent Shaquille O'Neal to
sign with the Lakers in 1996, rivals say that he will have a much
harder time luring a star to Memphis. "They say that, do they?"
snaps West. "If they only knew about some of the phone calls I
get from players who would like to play for me here. I'm talking
about really good players."
Is one of them Kobe Bryant? West isn't saying, though one reason
Bryant is expected to opt out of his contract this summer is
because he has felt isolated on the Lakers since West's
departure. Provided that Bryant is acquitted of the sexual
assault charge facing him in Colorado, he could try to reunite
with West by threatening to sign a max or near-max deal with the
Jazz, Nuggets, Clippers or Spurs. That could force L.A. to work a
sign-and-trade with the Grizzlies rather than lose him without
compensation. Whether Bryant comes or not, West's track record
makes him a good bet to pull off a blockbuster before he (as they
say of another famous Memphian) leaves the building.
COLOR PHOTO: MARK HUMPHREY/AP Young players like Jones give West the depth to possibly swing amajor deal.