Golden State Warriors

Team Improv: Steve Kerr and Luke Walton embrace the beauty of creativity, chaos

The Warriors have two of the top-five head coaches in the NBA. They won’t after this season, because some team (the Lakers seem like an obvious choice, if they can get out of their own way) will hire Luke Walton away. But Walton is the head coach of the best team on the planet for the time being. And after Golden State beat the Utah Jazz with defense, Walton got his Miles Davis on.

“As far as the execution, it’s tough with us because … we give our players so much freedom. There’s not structure as to where ‘you should be here’ every time so you can get on ‘em.

“We want the creativity. We feel like their creativity is part of what makes us great. Of course when you don’t have a set of rules, there’s gonna be times where somebody reads something, someone else reads it differently, and it gets sloppy out there. But at the same time, we use that to grow from, and get practice doing it. So when you get in a seven-game series, teams have a tougher time scouting you, because there’s not one set of things that you’re doing.”

The Warriors are the Second City improv troupe. Scratch that — they’re the hottest jazz band on the planet. The only way to beat them is to slow the game down. Make it boring. The Warriors have two choices.

  1. Spend every waking hour figuring out ways to counter slower, bigger teams with basketball born out of safety and precision.
  2. Continue to push the boundaries past everyone’s comfort level.

Based on Walton’s borderline-poetic postgame quote, it’s pretty clear which fork in the road the Warriors have taken. This doesn’t mean they’ll throw silly pass upon silly pass and hope the entire operation somehow crystallizes into some sort of Black Swan zenith. They know better than all of us, who watch from our chairs and couches, that anticipation, effort and anger have as much to do with their future success as the balletic moves that at times seem like the product of otherworldly genetics and mind-altering substances.

That’s where the Warriors meet head-on with what they’ve been over this season’s first 28 games. They’re 27-1, but that’s not their personality. They want to prove the world wrong, but they aren’t perfectionists. That record is too buttoned-up. If they’re trying to push the past their own boundaries, they’ll need to stumble a time or two. So maybe the loss in Milwaukee was a blessing of sorts. If they feel freer without the streak, all the better.

And that’s not just offensively, either. The season ebbs and flows, just like a jazz record. After a four-day intermission, the Warriors are clearly back on that defensive kick. And just in time, with Cleveland coming to town.

Kerr and Walton are receptive individuals, otherwise the Warriors wouldn’t be able to do this. Sure, Steph Curry is an alien and Draymond Green is the strongest, craziest adhesive around. But it takes a love of basketball and the ability to suppress one’s ego to take the best from so many excellent coaches, while allowing the players to take it from there.

Kerr is a Gregg Popovich disciple.

Kerr and Walton both played for Phil Jackson.

Whenever you’re wondering why the Warriors are experimenting with a lineup that hurts to watch for more than 30 seconds, that’s Jackson, who sees the regular season not as a time to set records, but as a time to embrace chaos and challenge role players who might otherwise let another season slip away. Jackson pushed for victory in the final minutes of every game as a head coach, but he never saw tragedy in regular season losses if he saw a glimmer from someone on that bench — someone whose fear was dissipating to the point where he could be counted on after the *actual* season began. Or, on many other occasions, unbridled anger from the team’s brightest stars.

That’s probably simplifying things too much. Mike D’Antoni also deserves credit. Don Nelson might deserve even more. But when you think of all of these great coaches, one thing stands out, as clear as a cloudless, crisp, breezy Northern California day in early-Spring. These are the best coaches in the world, and they’re the best at letting go. There’s ego in that, too.

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