Smart, prepared and without flash, Steve Kerr ready to lead Warriors
OAKLAND -- On Tuesday afternoon the Warriors introduced Steve Kerr as their new head coach. The press conference took place on a portable stage erected in the team's practice facility, which rests atop a parking garage in downtown Oakland.
It was, by Warriors standards, a subdued event. Three years ago, when the team introduced Mark Jackson, the presser was held at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, owner Joe Lacob presided and Jackson unnecessarily promised a trip to the playoffs in his first season. A year later, in announcing a new arena in a prime location on the Bay -- so prime that the deal subsequently fell through -- the team brought out the big guns, including Gavin Newsom, David Stern, David Lee and, naturally, Ahmad Rashad. Soft rock music blared. Self-congratulation ran rampant.
This time, the Warriors got it right. Just Kerr, GM Bob Myers and team play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald on stage. No big promises. A pleasant Q&A. This time Lacob sat in the audience, his only public contribution a series of vigorous head nods each time Kerr said something he really liked. Also on hand were Kerr's family and his college coach at Arizona, Lute Olson, as well as his friend and local radio host/bon vivant/unofficial Warriors mascot Tom Tolbert, who afterward spoke highly of both Kerr's coaching future and the wisdom of having a kegerator in one's garage.
Kerr was, as always, composed, likeable and well-spoken. He hit all the right notes, saying that he wants someone on his bench who has "head coaching experience." That he understands the importance of the owner-GM-coach "troika" (emphatic Lacob head nod). That he'd already spoken to all but two Warriors players. That the team has the best fans in the league (Kerr cited the 2007 clincher against the Mavs, which he worked for TNT, as the best arena atmosphere he's witnessed). In the breakout session, Kerr talked with reporters about creating more movement on offense, while noting that he'd be "an idiot" not to keep running pick-and-rolls with Steph Curry. He'd just prefer that two or three passes precede the pick-and-roll action, to get the defense moving, like the way the Spurs do it. Actually "Like The Way The Spurs Do It" could have been the motto for the whole presser, so often was San Antonio invoked.
As for Lacob and Myers, each spoke separately afterward about how Kerr's preparation impressed them, citing an "incredibly detailed" 16-page document that Kerr put together for his interview with the Warriors. Said Lacob, "You know how you know it when you see it? This guy is it."
So yeah, everyone seemed quite pleased, most of all Lacob, who no doubt took great joy in stealing a coach away from Phil Jackson. Then again, people are always optimistic at these type of events. What matters is what everyone thinks six months, two years or five years from now. Just ask Jackson.
Forecasting Kerr's success as a coach is difficult, however. There are just too many unknowns at this point, and he's too new to the job (Kerr is finishing out his playoff work on TNT before focusing on the Warriors full-time). So let's instead focus on what we do know.
• Kerr has a ton of upside. Usually coaches fall into one of a few categories. You have your obsessive X-and-O's types who never played, like Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy. You have your authoritative ex-pros, like Doc Rivers, Larry Bird and Jason Kidd. And you have your creative basketball minds, like Mike D'Antoni and George Karl.
Kerr is a potential hybrid, the rare coach who has experience in management (three years as Suns GM), championship cred as a player (those five rings) and extensive media chops (in addition to his broadcasting work, Kerr wrote for his high school paper alongside Mike Silver, who penned an SI profile of his friend in 1997). Theoretically, Kerr could be a coach who can win the press conference, relate to players, delegate wisely, think big picture and grow into a tactician. Those are not easy to find.
• He's thought this out. Last summer, I spoke to Kerr for a story I was writing on Bison Dele and he mentioned that he was already doing research in preparation to get into coaching, and had been for a while. He's attended the training camps of coaches he admired, including Popovich and Don Nelson and Hubie Brown. He spoke to coaches in different sports. And he learned from some of the best: Olson, Lenny Wilkens, Phil Jackson and, of course Pop.
• He's something of an outlier for an ex-pro. In recent years, players who've gone straight into coaching have been predominantly point guards. This makes sense, as men like Rivers, Jackson and Kidd were all considered coaches on the floor. They needed to run a team, manage personalities, and take on a leadership role from a young age. The same goes for Jacque Vaughn, Avery Johnson and, if he makes the leap to the Knicks, Derek Fisher. Kerr? He's an anomaly of sorts. While plenty of point guards and forwards become head coaches -- think Bird, McHale, Ty Corbin etc. -- it's relatively rare to see a shooting guard in that position. Jeff Hornacek is a recent example, and Carlisle and Doug Collins were both shooting guards, but they were different types of players than Kerr. Kerr was a spot-up shooter, a specialist sent out to spread the floor. Such men have a limited role in the offense, living in certain spots on the floor and waiting for their moment. Confidence is paramount, if at times fleeting. They are the field goal kickers of the NBA. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, this impacts his approach to coaching.
• And, finally, he's not big on theatrics. Here, the contrast with Jackson is especially pronounced. While Jackson talked a huge game as both a coach and announcer, fond of declarations and catch phrases -- anyone know what happens to a man when the hand goes down? -- Kerr comes off as a realist. He talks of 10-year plans, and understanding that the transition to coaching will come with mistakes. He admitted that while the team will, "take a swing" every year, that, "some years that might mean we slip out of the playoffs altogether."
For Warriors fans, who've spent the last decade alternating between despair (most of the time) and unrealistic, almost-giddy hope -- Baron! Bogut! Steph! -- this will be an adjustment.
With Kerr, most likely what you see will be what you get. This may not lend itself to great sports radio fodder, but no one in the Bay will care if it leads to wins.