Where Are They Now?

In last week’s “Blast from the Past,” Cavs.com dissected some of the trades that shaped the franchise. Many of the club’s biggest deals turned out one-sided. Some trades fell in the Wine and Gold’s favor. Some didn’t.

But one deal that worked out well for both teams went down at the Deadline in 1988, when the Cavaliers dealt Tyrone Corbin, Kevin Johnson and Mark West to Phoenix for Larry Nance and Mike Sanders. (Both teams also swapped the following year’s first-rounder.)

From the Cavs perspective, Larry Nance went on to record seven great years in Cleveland, making a pair of All-Star appearances and averaging 16.9 ppg in five playoff runs. Nance’s number, of course, hangs in the rafters at The Q. Mike Sanders didn’t have the prolific run that Nance did, but still started 35 postseason games in four solid years in Richfield.

The Suns didn’t fare badly themselves. Kevin Johnson – who the Cavaliers drafted No. 7 overall – earned three All-Star nods and 11 playoff appearances with Phoenix. Corbin played one more full season in the desert – and for seven more squads before his career ended in 2001.

Mark West, viewed as little more than a throw-in at the time, was a player that Cleveland was very reluctant to part with. The bruising backup center from Old Dominion joined the Cavaliers in 1984 after being waived by the Bucks.

The 6-10, 250-pound West played five seasons with Cleveland – four straight from 1984-88 and returning for the 1996-97 campaign. During his first four-year stint, West improved his scoring average from 3.9 ppg to 8.5 ppg. But maybe more importantly, West was a tough, skilled, durable backup to Brad Daugherty.

West flourished in Phoenix, playing in all 82 games for six straight seasons and making 11 playoff appearances – including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1993. West was at his personal best in 1989-90, when he averaged 10.5 ppg, shooting .625 from the floor for the season. In that year’s postseason, he blocked 41 shots in 16 games.

West played with seven teams during his 16-year career, retiring with Phoenix after the 1999-2000 season. In 2001, he was named the Suns' assistant general manager and, today, is the team’s Vice-President of Player Programs.

A member of the Old Dominion Hall of Fame, West graduated in 1983 with a degree in business administration with an emphasis on financial management. He was featured in a 1999 article in Fortune Magazine about being a licensed broker since 1992.

Cavs.com caught up with the Valley of the Sun’s big businessman and asked him about his early days at the Coliseum, his return to Cleveland almost ten years later and even his thoughts on the stock market in today’s installment of “Where Are They Now?”

What’s your role with the Suns?
Mark West: Right now, my title is Vice President of Player Development. And I think every team in the league has somebody in that role. I have a counterpart on every team in the league, including the Cavs.

What we do is try to help the team relate to the players and the players relate to their responsibilities – not only on the basketball side, but also on the business side of the organization. We almost act as big brothers and big sisters. We try to help the players get the most out of their careers – more so off the court than on the court, if that makes sense.

How much does your financial background help out in that role?
West: I think it helps me out a lot. We’re trying to give them great advice. They’re going to make the ultimate decision one way or the other. But I think it helps, so that when I’m talking to them about financial issues, that it has some relevance or some impact where guys are thinking: ‘Maybe he knows a little bit about what he’s talking about.’

You’ve been a licensed broker for almost 20 years. Do you still pay close attention to the Market?
West: I’m always going to be in it, in some shape or form. You either believe in the country or you don’t. And with the stock market, this is just the way it goes. But I’m in it.

It’s been crazy, but a lot of it is our debt crisis and the debt crisis in other countries.

I don’t understand the Standard & Poor’s rating. I mean, I understand the rating. But I don’t understand why we’re not making a bigger deal of the fact that this is the same agency that gave all those toxic assets an AAA rating. Not to say that they’re right or wrong, but the country took a hit when they released that rating.

Did you have an idea that you’d wind up in Phoenix after your playing days ended?
West: I had a feeling that I’d come back and play some role with the organization, but I didn’t know it’d be this exact role, per se. But I knew that I was going to come back.

I started to raise a family here and I’ve made it my home. So I knew I wasn’t going to be jumping around the country. And when I came back, I got a call from Jerry. He had told me earlier – I had gotten traded to Detroit from here (in ’94) – that when I wind up my career, let’s sit down and have a talk about some things you might be able to do in the organization. So that’s what I did when I finished.

Does the weather in Phoenix make you miss Cleveland?
West: (Laughs.) Actually, I loved Cleveland. When I was there, it was great. It’s kinda weird, because first I went to Cleveland I said: ‘It’s a job.’ But George Karl was there coaching and he gave me the opportunity to play and build a base in the league. And I was very appreciative of that. So I love Cleveland!

Phil Hubbard was there, Ron Harper was there. Brad Daugherty. Lenny Wilkens came in to coach. We built a very good team there.

Winters were cold. But I didn’t know any better until I got out here that I could live somewhere this warm. I used to go to some of the festivals they’d have by the lake in the summer. Cleveland was great.

The only problem I really had was that I was a Steelers fan, and you know how that plays. That was a little problem.

I mean, I like the Browns, too. So I had to play neutral sometimes. But I remember fans would wear this t-shirt where this little character (Calvin) is peeing on Pittsburgh. And I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’

Your first season in Cleveland (1984-85) was the season the Cavs started out 2-19 and eventually made the playoffs. Was that your most special year as a Cavalier?
West: You know what, it was a special year. But my best – probably the year I remember most – was when we finally got Brad and Hot Rod Williams, Ron (Harper), Mark Price and those guys. And we finally beat Boston in our building.

The Celtics used to just thrash us in Richfield. I don’t know if we beat them in their place during those years, but we finally got them in our gym and we just beat them up.

I was there during the years when we just struggled. And we finally got to that point where I finally thought: We have a chance.

When I first got there, we’d play Boston and there would be a sea of green in our building. And I couldn’t stand it! It made me want to vomit. But by the time I left, the fact that we could beat them. That was great for me.

How frustrating was it to get traded after weathering all the tough years and finally seeing some success?
West: It was very frustrating.

From where I had come from – where we didn’t have a lot going as far as wins and losses in Cleveland. To all of a sudden, we’d changed it around and the organization had gotten much stronger. Teams would come into our gym and they were worried. We’d come into their place and they were worried.

When I got to Cleveland, World (B. Free) was there. Lonnie Shelton was there. Ben Poquette, Edgar Jones. It was an older team. Ironically, by the time Brad and those guys got there, I was one of the older guys on the team. And those young guys would look to me. And I’d let them know: ‘We ain’t backing down from nothing!’ That’s the way Lonnie and those guys played, and they taught me the game. And that’s what I tried to bring to them. From that perspective, I was a big part of that team. And that’s the attitude we took on the floor.

When I left, we finally got to a point where we had some guys we could really rumble with. And then, I had to go.

You still managed to land in a good spot …
West: It turned out to be a great trade for both teams. Cleveland got Larry Nance and Mike Sanders and they were terrific ballplayers. The only thing that kept them out of the Finals was the same thing that kept all the other Eastern Conference teams out of the Finals – Jordan and the Bulls.

But at least they were in the Eastern Conference Finals battling for that. So they had given themselves an opportunity.

And on our end, we’d given ourselves the same opportunity. We got Tom Chambers as a free agent, we drafted Armand Gilliam, we made some changes through the years. And we were challenging for the West, too. But obviously there were some teams that kept us from getting to the Finals until we got Charles.

Besides the ugly uniforms, how different was the organization when you came back for a season in 1996?
West: It was completely different. We weren’t in Richfield anymore. We were downtown. And actually, the uniforms looked a little better than when I played because we had those bright orange uniforms.

I remember they used to call Mel Turpin “the Great Pumpkin.” We’d go out in the city to do community relations stuff in those all-orange sweats. Oh, man!

I know you’re back with the wine-colored uniforms now. But I actually liked the light blue. I thought the light blue was a good look when I came back to play with Tyrone and those guys. But I wore light blue in college, so maybe I’m a little biased.

Do you still pull for the Cavs?
West: As long as they’re not playing us. And especially if they’re playing Boston or the Bulls or any of the teams in the Central Division (even though I played for Detroit and Indiana).

I still pull for the Cavs. I like seeing them being successful. I still have my Cavs jerseys hanging in my basement. So, of course I’m going to pull for them!

What’s the latest with your family?
West: I have two sons, a 16-year-old (Markus) and a 14-year-old (Markyle) who’s a freshman in high school. I’ve been married 20 years now. Life is good – I have no complaints.

Will your two boys be bruisers like you?
West: Unfortunately, they didn’t get my height. And God knows I want them to be more talented me – as far as skills vs. just trying to beat everybody up. (Laughs.)

They enjoy playing. I loved playing the game, I loved competing, and I hated losing. And I told my son: ‘You might be more skilled than me now and when you get older. But my will to win – that’s gonna make the difference. Because I don’t like to lose.’

Do you take him to the driveway hoop to illustrate your point?
West: I try not to. But then he’ll say, ‘Dad. Come on – I got you!’ And I’ll say, ‘You don’t have me, man.’ As soon as it looks like he’s going to win, I’m going to back him down and hit a layup every time.

I’ve been on the wrong end of that sometimes. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do to win.