Steve Kerr has five championship rings from his playing days, led a team to the conference finals as a general manager and called countless other games deep into the playoffs from his courtside seat for TNT.
The Golden State Warriors are banking on that success continuing in the one NBA role he’s yet to fill.
Kerr makes his head coaching debut Wednesday night in Sacramento for a Warriors franchise that hasn’t been beyond the second round in 40 years against a Kings team that would settle for simply slipping into the postseason.
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Fifty-one wins and extending the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers to seven games weren’t enough for Mark Jackson to keep the job he’d held for three years, a span in which Golden State won more playoff games (nine) than it had over the previous two decades (six).
In steps Kerr, who won three titles with the mid-90s Bulls and two more in San Antonio. He had a reasonably successful three-year run as Phoenix’s general manager in between stints as TNT’s lead color analyst, but has never coached.
"These guys are already really good," Kerr said of the Warriors’ core. "We’re not trying to change everything. All we’re trying to do is help them get even better. Basketball is all about how the pieces fit, and the pieces already fit pretty well here."
One big piece was missing from that playoff loss to the Clippers. Center Andrew Bogut suffered a fractured rib late in the regular season and didn’t return.
Bogut is healthy heading into this season, though, and Kerr plans to use him as more than just his defensive anchor. He likely won’t have power forward David Lee available for the opener since the two-time All-Star has a strained left hamstring. The offense in the preseason often funneled through Bogut at the top of the key or elbow, where he was able to kick it to a bevy of shooters.
Golden State’s top eight players in terms of minutes played are back, and the Warriors signed Shaun Livingston to a three-year, $16 million deal after the former lottery pick thrived in Brooklyn last season.
Livingston has been ruled out as he continues to recover from a toe injury, but he should provide a solid third guard behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – who finished first and second in 3-pointers made last season.
No one needs to remind Kings coach Michael Malone. Curry and Thompson went a combined 27 of 50 from 3-point range against Sacramento as the Warriors swept all four games.
"If you allow two of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA to shoot that high of a percentage, you have little to no chance of beating them," Malone told the team’s official website.
Curry averaged 24.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 2013-14, something only LeBron James and Gary Payton have done. The Warriors think so much of Thompson that they weren’t willing to include him in a potential Kevin Love trade.
"We’re all excited about taking advantage of the window we have as a team," Curry said. "Coaches change, but when you have a unit and a core that’s sticking together, it’s our job to take advantage of it, regardless of the situation. That’s kind of our motivation. We’ve tasted a little bit of success in the playoffs the last two years, and we want more."
While the Warriors are hoping Kerr can lead them to at least their first conference finals appearance since 1974-75, the Kings haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2005-06.
They’ve won 28 games in each of the past two seasons and have the league’s worst winning percentage over the past six, but a little certainty over the state of the franchise is providing some optimism. After the threat of a move to Seattle loomed large 17 months ago, Sacramento is clearing ground for a new downtown arena and appears stable under new owner Vivek Ranadive.
"Last year when the season started, I said it wasn’t going to be about wins and losses," Ranadive said. "When I came here and we bought the team, there was dysfunction in the locker room, there wasn’t mutual respect, the arena was literally falling apart, the roof was falling down. So we brought in a new team, we restored stability, we restored respect, we put in a strong culture.
"But this year, let’s be clear: it is about wins and losses."
DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay will be the focal points after teaming with Curry and Thompson to help the U.S. win gold in the FIBA World Cup, but while the Warriors have plenty beyond their two stars, the Kings’ depth is a major question mark.
Gone is point guard Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points last season but was dealt to Phoenix after receiving a seemingly reasonable four-year, $27 million offer sheet. In his place are Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions, whom Cousins lauded in the preseason for moving the ball more often and more efficiently than Thomas.
Sacramento also has a pair of young wings it hopes will provide some range to a team that shot 33.3 percent – 27th in the league – from long distance. The Kings took Michigan’s Nik Stauskas with the eighth overall pick, one spot after they took Kansas’ Ben McLemore a year earlier.
Gay suffered a jaw injury and McLemore received five stitches after a collision in Sacramento’s preseason finale, but both are cleared to play Wednesday.