Jerry West is still Mr. Clutch.
The Lakers used to look for him to make the game-winning jump shot, the game-saving defensive play or the game-tying basket from halfcourt. Now they look for him to swing the key trade, draft the best player available, sign a productive free agent or pick the right coach. Fact of the matter is that West, the Hall of Fame guard, has become an even bigger winner as a general manager.
During his 14-year career as a player, the Lakers won 692 regular-season games, lost 442, won nine divisional championships, reached the finals eight times and won one NBA title.
During his nine-year career as a general manager, the Lakers have won 545 regular-season games, lost 193, won eight divisional championships, reached the finals seven times and are trying to win a fourth NBA title.
Sure, it didn't hurt to have Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain as teammates.
Neither has it hurt having Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as players.
But West was the prototype two-way guard, who is still prominent on every NBA regular-season and playoff scoring list.
And there can be no argument that he is among the most astute executives in any sport in North America.
Retirements and low draft choices usually catch up with perennial winners. It did with the Raiders, Steelers, Yankees, Canadiens and Islanders. But not the Lakers. They just keep winning.
Here are some of West's contributions:
--Selects North Carolina's James Worthy with the first pick in the 1982 draft to the surprise of many experts, who preferred DePaul's Terry Cummings or Georgia's Dominique Wilkins.
--Trades Norm Nixon, Eddie Jordan and two draft choices to the San Diego Clippers for rookie Byron Scott and Swen Nater in 1983. This deal was met with a standing boo from Laker players, coaches and fans.
--Drafts Oregon State's A.C. Green with the 23rd pick in the first round in 1985.
--Trades two second-round draft choices to the Phoenix Suns for Maurice Lucas in 1985.
--Trades Frank Brickowski, Petur Gudmundsson and two draft choices to the San Antonio Spurs for Mychal Thompson in 1987.
--Signs free agent Orlando Woolridge in 1988.
--Drafts Vlade Divac with the 26th pick in the first round in 1989.
--Selects Mike Dunleavy to replace Pat Riley as coach in 1990.
--Signs free agent Sam Perkins in 1990.
--Trades a first-round draft choice to the Warriors for Terry Teagle in 1990.
--Drafts Clemson's Elden Campbell with the 27th pick on the first round in 1990.
Where would the Lakers be today without Worthy, Perkins, Scott, Divac and Green? Anywhere but at the Forum for Game 3 of the NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls.
"Jerry West, without a doubt, has done the best job of anybody in the NBA," says former Washington Bullet general manager Bob Ferry. "He knows the market and he knows how to communicate with his peers. That ability to interact is one of the most important qualities a general manager can have."
West is popular with the phone company, but isn't a stay-in-the-office kind of guy.
One reason he picked Green after most of the rest of the league ignored the former Pacific 10 Conference player of the year is that he had seen Oregon State play at Pauley Pavilion and the Sports Arena.
The same thing with Byron Scott of Arizona State, who came to the Forum in what once ranked as the most unpopular trade in Laker history.
"I don't mind making a decision," West said. "Fans will tell you they love this or that player. Coaches will get a certain group of players that they like, so maybe they're not objective either. Our players are really nice people. But if you don't stay objective about it, then you're asking for trouble.
"We won two titles with Norm Nixon. But age became a factor, and somewhere along the line you have to take risks. I felt a different kind of player would work better with Magic."
Eight years and three NBA championships later, there are no complaints in Inglewood about the trade or the man who made it.
"I want to win more than anyone on my team," West once said. "I want to win more than our coaches want to win. I want to win more than our fans. I think everyone has high expectations. My expectations are higher, so I put more pressure on myself, period."'
One evening at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the Lakers were losing by a point to the Warriors when Coach Fred Schaus called time out to diagram a play.
"Look, do me a favor," West said. "Throw me the damn ball and get away from me."
The Lakers won by a point on West's 15-footer.
Now they are winning on some of his other right moves.