How Steve Kerr turned the Warriors into the NBA’s best team
OAKLAND — There’s no doubt Steve Kerr got lucky.
He was gifted a chunk of gold in the form of a 51-win Golden State Warriors team. He wasn’t asked to melt it down and transform it. No, instead the request was simpler: Just polish it.
But then, to make things this historically shiny — the NBA’s best record at 22-3 and the franchise’s best start — takes more than a simple fortuitous handoff of talent.
Sure, Kerr strolled into a charmed gig, but he’s made the tweaks to enhance the team’s offense without overhauling it and, perhaps more importantly, he’s quickly won over a locker room that wasn’t exactly ready to let go of the last guy.
Winning over the royal son of the franchise, cornerstone Stephen Curry, was an important first step. Curry was close with former coach Mark Jackson, and the Warriors’ superstar was vocally unhappy when Jackson was fired.
“It was two separate decisions that were made this summer,” Curry told FOX Sports after the Warriors’ recent win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I wasn’t happy with the first one, letting Mark go. But obviously if that was the decision they made, they better get the right hire, and I think they did. Obviously, it’s shown with how we’re playing.
“He’s the right man for the job.”
He’s the right man for the job.
Stephen Curry, on Warriors head coach Steve Kerr
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is not screw things up. And while that may seem like a strange way to credit Kerr for what the Warriors have accomplished so far, it’s really not. Immense pressure has a prickly way of poking holes in even the most secure of men.
A bigger ego may have swung open the saloon doors in Oakland and immediately tried to brand things his way. But not Kerr. That’s not his self-effacing style, and for that reason he’s been able to implement subtle changes to make the Warriors better without over-coaching or insisting on a revolution of the game plan.
“He’s been great,” Curry said. “He’s very comfortable in his role. He started this summer with reaching out to every player and expressing what their role was going to be and how he envisioned running the team. That he wasn’t coming in trying to reinvent the wheel with drastic changes because we were already a 51-win team with pretty much the same core back in action and great talent around us.
“He understood he was taking over a solid roster. We could get better; obviously, we didn’t win a championship. But we were very competitive and laid a foundation for success. It wasn’t that he was building from the ground up. It was just about fine tuning what he saw we could do better.”
Kerr’s greatest quality right now may be his humility and ability to relinquish control over certain parts of the game.
He’s inherited a roster with incredible depth, led by the likely All-Star backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson and surrounded by a wealth of high-IQ players like Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut.
Kerr learned from the two greatest coaches of this generation in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Rather than showing it off and bogging his players down with details and some sort of Kerr-branded style, he’s simply leading with core offensive and defensive principles and trusting his incredibly talented roster to make the right calls on the floor.
It’s not always easy for a coach to get out of the way like that, and it’s to Kerr’s credit.
“It was just about a couple tweaks that he wanted,” Curry said. “Watching the game and being around the league for so long, he understood what successful teams could do based upon our personnel. He’s predicated a lot of ball movement on the offensive end, playing through our bigs and using spacing to our advantage, and obviously maintaining us as a top-five defensive team like we’ve been the last three years.”
Those talk-radio fears after Jackson’s firing centered around whether the Warriors would respond well to whoever was going to follow Jackson. But Kerr has already won over Curry, and the rest of the locker room seems to have accepted the new guy, too.
There’s still a palpable sensitivity to making comparisons between Kerr and Jackson in the locker room. When Warriors owner Joe Lacob recently criticized Jackson, and later apologized, it rubbed Curry the wrong way and he said as much through the media.
The players still hold high regard for Jackson. Perhaps more importantly, they don’t want to disassociate themselves from their recent past success nor do they want to focus negatively when the present looks so darn positive.
Truth be told, this season under Kerr doesn’t mark a new era of Warriors basketball. These current accomplishments are firmly attached to the team’s year-by-year climb into title contention. Kerr isn’t the sole reason for this early-season success, but he’s now clearly a part of it.
“It’s a together group,” said forward Draymond Green. “This organization has done a great job of putting a group of guys together that are just great guys. … There are no egos, no one cares about who gets the shot or what-not, all those things that would break up that camaraderie. We love each other, we love being around each other, we love playing together.”
There are no egos, no one cares about who gets the shot or what not, all those things that would break up that camaraderie. We love each other, we love being around each other, we love playing together.
Asked how the new coaching staff fits in with this locker room, Green lumped them right in.
“It’s a great coaching staff. Easy to get along with. Easy to accept coaching from. Easy to accept criticism from. They do a great job. They’re fun guys, not uptight. Not that our last coaching staff was uptight either. They do their job, and we have fun together. It’s a good combination.”
Yes, everyone is feeling pretty darn good right now about the state of the franchise. But don’t expect Kerr to wax too poetically about the team’s historic start. He isn’t interested in taking the credit, at least just yet. Perhaps he’s afraid to jinx it, or perhaps he really is just that humble of a guy.
When asked about how he’s settling in as a coach, the record speaks for him: “Well, to be 22-3 is incredible,” Kerr said. “I couldn’t have imagined this kind of start. My biggest focus is just on constant improvement.”
Not exactly pound-the-chest and holler type stuff.
He’s also quick to commend his coaching staff. And it’s well-deserved. Defensive guru Ron Adams is paired with veteran coach Alvin Gentry. Kerr also brought on recent players Luke Walton and Jarron Collins.
“The coaching staff complements each other really well,” said veteran Andre Iguodala. “I think that’s something every good team has. … Coach Kerr is a former player who dealt with some of the greatest basketball minds, the guys that have coached him. And you find two guys who have been in the NBA for a really long time and seen just about everything on both sides of the floor when you got Gentry and Adams.”
Things certainly appear golden for the Warriors.
And it seems two things are true: Yes, Kerr is lucky, but he also seems to be the right fit in Golden State.
Jimmy Spencer writes on the NBA for Fox Sports and can be reached at @JimmySpencerNBA on Twitter.