Grooming Ryan West: The Lakers’ Succession Plan


Jerry West‘s handprints over the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Championship are vivid. From his threatening to step down if they traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love to his personal interest in Harrison Barnes. West is the most respected consultant in the league and even though he is away from his beloved Lakers, his pulse still beats in Los Angeles through his son, Ryan West, Assistant Director of Scouting.

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Recently Vlade Divac, Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations for the Sacramento Kings, is said to have “serious interest” in bringing Ryan West to the Kings in a Front Office position. Although there hasn’t been any documented contact between the two, it’s a point of concern for the Lakers’ future especially with the team currently in rebuilding mode.

West has been mentored by Mitch Kupchak, who in turn was mentored by Ryan’s dad, Jerry. He works alongside Jesse Buss, Lakers Director of Scouting and next door to Bill Bertka, Assistant Coach and employee of the Lakers for nearly 40 years. Similar to his father, West considers the Lakers family and losing him to a division rival would be devastating. To Ryan’s credit, there hasn’t been a hint of him leaning towards leaving the Lakers, but maybe what Divac’s words reveal is what a gem West really is.

From the ripe age of 12, West has been in NBA war rooms with his dad. As a college student at nearby LMU, Kupchak gave him a scouting assignment just to test his merits. When his dad left the Lakers for the Grizzlies in 2002, Ryan studied under his dad, but when the Lakers came calling, he eagerly packed his bags for L.A., which he considers home. At age 35, he’s seen everything from the Showtime Lakers in the 80’s to Kobe and Shaq’s dominance in the early 2000’s. But since Phil Jackson retired as Head Coach of the Lakers in 2011, the team has been in disarray so now scouting and evaluating talent is more important than ever.

When Jim Buss boldly stated he’d step down in 3 seasons if the Lakers weren’t back in championship contention speculation began to swirl. In an ideal world, Buss would step down, Kupchak would become Vice President of Basketball Operations and Ryan West would become General Manager. The Lakers have been criticized for over-valuing tradition, but if they truly want to maintain a “family business” promoting West within the organization would be a huge step in the right direction. West isn’t like his counterparts Jesse and Jim who were thrusted into positions of power through sheer inheritance. He’s been training and working for this opportunity since he’s been a teenager. Jerry West and Ryan tend to have almost daily conversations so you can imagine the basketball IQ that is growing inside his head.

Note also that the Lakers exit-interviews this past April were conducted by Mitch Kupchak and Ryan West, not Jim Buss. Hopefully that is the combo that carries the Lakers into the next chapter of winning basketball. West has been entrusted and endorsed by his father Jerry and Kupchak, so this is no case of favoritism, rather respect. Divac’s singling out of West may be similar to Phil Jackson’s affection for Steve Kerr before he was hired as a Head Coach. As fans we often focus on players as the single reason for winning, but the front office is ultimately responsible for selecting individual talent and hiring the Head Coach who leads the team. Ryan West has game-changing potential and the Lakers must do everything they can to keep him bleeding purple and gold.

8/23/15- Following the wake of Vlade Divac attempting to poach Ryan away, it seems the Lakers are doing what they must to keep the young West around. According to Eric Pincus at the LA Times, the Lakers have given Ryan West a promotion to Director of Player Personnel. It’s a poorly kept secret in Laker Land that Ryan is the heir apparent to Mitch Kupchak and his magic wand. Vlade tried, and is probably still trying, to pry the Logo’s son away from his home in Los Angeles. It would appear that for now it’s still full speed ahead with Ryan being groomed to take over eventually as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.

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