Kerr keeps Warriors winning with yoga, creative approach
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Anderson Varejao lowered his 6-foot-11 frame into a runner's lunge and raised one arm high into the air to add a twist, demonstrating after a recent shootaround the new yoga pose he just learned.
Then, he took it up a notch and attempted an airplane balancing pose on one leg with his arms spread wide.
The Golden State Warriors have become yogis.
Coach Steve Kerr is committed to changing things up, and he gave Golden State a day off from the practice floor one day last week so the players could practice yoga instead. In the middle of a prolonged stretch at home with a more regular routine, the schedule allowed for some improvising.
''I really liked it,'' Varejao said. ''I'm going to do more.''
Doubt you'll see Draymond Green or Klay Thompson doing downward-facing dog again soon - though Green might be talked into another try eventually.
''I'm bad,'' Green said. ''Yoga isn't for everybody. I think it's a great thing, I just don't think my body is made for all of those different positions. I did well at a few of them. It's hard, it's tough. My body really isn't cut out for yoga.''
The very next night after the group class, during warmups for a home game with the Pistons, player development coach Bruce Fraser pulled his foot to his opposite inner thigh for an impromptu tree pose. He laughed as an amused Shaun Livingston watched from the baseline.
Andre Iguodala is an experienced yogi who can really cat-cow and is considered top on the team, often taking classes. Center Zaza Pachulia also can forward fold with the best of them. They took prominent positions in the class led by Lisa Goodwin, Golden State's director of corporate communications and also a yoga teacher, at a Berkeley studio - a first for Kerr taking the team away from team headquarters for a yoga session.
No surprise, two-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry can bring it on the mat, too.
''We've had some optional yoga sessions at our facility. This is the first time we took everybody and made it mandatory,'' Kerr said. ''It was good.''
The temperature was about 92 degrees for the hour-long power vinyasa class, so it was steamy.
Everybody was drenched in sweat by the end for final resting pose, or savasana.
''My muscles felt good,'' forward James Michael McAdoo said, rubbing his stomach where his core got a workout. ''It was fun. It was hot in there, like working in a sauna. I told our strength and conditioning coach, `You got to step up your game. Lisa embarrassed us.'"
''It's awful, it's pitiful,'' Thompson said of his own yoga ability. ''It's something I worked on and it's something I actually enjoy. More than just being physically challenging, it's an incredible mental workout. It tests your pain tolerance and your ability to push yourself mentally. That's why I like it. It was really good. I think it helped a lot of us - everybody, even the coaches.''
Along with the experienced yoga veterans, there were some first-timers.
A few found it extremely tough.
''I'm not the most flexible,'' acknowledged player development coach Chris DeMarco.
Assistant coach Mike Brown described his debut as ''terrible.''
''For me, it was really hard, but it was fun,'' he said, later adding, ''I nearly passed out.''
Ron Adams, another assistant who focuses on preparing Golden State's defense, happened to work out in the hottest corner of the room for his first time practicing in that high temperature.
''It's such a cleansing exercise,'' he said.
The Warriors aren't the only ones doing it.
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy has scheduled yoga time for the Pistons, saying: ''It's got its value, no question about it. Would I consider doing it with them? Probably not.''
Kerr goes whenever he can fit it in, typically taking an hour-long class during the lunch hour on game days when the schedule - and his body - allows.
It's a time he can focus on taking some deep breaths, literally, away from the pressure-packed NBA workload and just be just another yoga student for 60 minutes out of his day.
This weekend marks one year since Kerr formally returned to the bench last Jan. 22 against Indiana after a lengthy leave of absence to deal with complications from a pair of back surgeries. Current Lakers coach Luke Walton led the way during a record 24-0 start and went 39-4 before Kerr's comeback on the way to winning Coach of the Year after an NBA record 73-9 finish.
While the 51-year-old Kerr still has some discouraging, physically challenging moments dealing with pain and headaches, he considers himself fortunate to be on the sideline doing what he loves.
''I guess normal is a good way to say it. He seems like his old self,'' Curry said. ''You know he's been through a lot just physically trying to recover from the surgeries he's had. I can't imagine the frustration, how long it took and things he had to do and all the doctors he's met with. His whole story is crazy. We're obviously happy to have him back but not only that, you see him with energy and his presence like he wants. It's been good to see.''
Whether Kerr will take his team back to yoga any time soon, time will tell. The Warriors are at the season's midway point and the ''dog days'' of January as Kerr has put it. Golden State was home for all but a night from Dec. 26 until leaving for Houston on Thursday for Friday's game against the Rockets, with just a quick bus ride to Sacramento as the lone road trip in a 10-game stretch during that span.
Because there was so much time to practice, the yoga day was a nice change of scenery.
''Just to get away and go do something else,'' Green said. ''We're still together doing something productive. But, it's not for me.''