If Steve Kerr still appears a little dazed? A little dreamy-eyed? Well, he should be. Within these past 13 glorious months, he dodged the perfect storm – declined to coach that mess known as the New York Knicks – and instead rode the perfect wave, taking the Warriors all the way to their first NBA championship in four decades.
Leading with his heart, going with his gut, Kerr accepted the Warriors job last May because it felt right, and mostly, because he studied a Golden State roster and couldn’t find any flaws. Two days after the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of a best-of-seven series, Kerr took another look at his roster and came to the same conclusion.
What’s not to like? The Warriors as constructed represent NBA masterpiece theater, are a talented, balanced, entertaining and healthy cast, and true to their grand plan.
“It’s ironic,” a relaxed, unshaven Kerr said Thursday at the practice facility, “but the only unexpected thing was that everything went exactly as we had hoped. That never happens. When we had our preseason meeting, the theme was, ‘Strength in numbers. We’re going to be a deep team. We’re going to sacrifice. Can we do that? That’s what it takes to be a championship team.’ It all sounds great, but for that to actually come true, in the most profound way ... ”
More than most, Kerr knows how the game works. He won three rings as a role player with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and two more with Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs. But unlike the last rookie coach whose championship team electrified the league – Pat Riley and the Lakers in 1982 – Kerr’s Hollywood narrative took place about 400 miles north.
Throughout a franchise-best 67-win season, the Warriors were first or second in offensive and defensive efficiency and assists. They dominated with three-point shooting, spacing and pace. They accelerated the league trend toward minimizing the importance of conventional big men, dictating outcomes without a consistent low-post presence. Their version of the inside/outside play was dribble-penetration orchestrated by MVP Steph Curry, and they attacked en masse, all arms and legs and skill, with the all-important element of good health.
Yet as Kerr and general manager Bob Myers acknowledged, there were moments of doubt.
“We had a great record early on,” said Kerr, “and I knew we would have a great season. But were we good enough to withstand the adversity of the Finals? Could we take care of the ball? Could we take care of the ball? (Laughs). We always rode that line between reckless and careless, and explosive. Which one are we, because I like a little explosive. The carelessness was something we had to overcome.”
There were other issues and questions. Kerr took a risk and nudged veteran Andre Iguodala to the bench in favor of Harrison Barnes, who slumped a year ago. When All-Star power forward David Lee recovered from an injury, Kerr kept the undersized, ridiculously versatile power forward Draymond Green in the starting lineup. Most recently, Kerr benched center Andrew Bogut for the final two games of the Finals to match Iguodala against the Cavaliers’ LeBron James.
But the championship touch was initiated by Myers, who endorsed the firing of Mark Jackson and hiring of Kerr, declined to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love before the season, then resisted the temptation to tinker while his team streaked toward its first title since 1975.
“Once we felt we could play fast, play slow ... ” Myers said, nodding, explaining his reasoning for keeping his roster intact. “If you want to get analytical, you look at, where is a weakness? Is it defensively? No. Is it offensively? No. So I’d probably be fired. The challenge now is, how do we not rest on our laurels? How do we keep pushing, keep driving, after experiencing some success?”
Warriors special adviser Jerry West has long advocated that even the most talented championship teams need to make at least minor changes in the offseasons, if only to avoid complacency. And with the Warriors entering the luxury tax phase when they re-sign Green, a restricted free agent, some thought surely will be given to moving Lee and his $15 million contract.
First, though, there is Friday’s victory parade in downtown Oakland and a rally at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.
“Just can’t mess it up,” the Bay Area native Myers said with a grin, shaking his head, as he walked away.
Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208