Despite his team winning at a lesser clip when he was head coach (.872) than it did in 43 games with Luke Walton as his interim replacement (.907), Steve Kerr is the 2015-16 NBA Coach of the Year.
— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) April 26, 2016
As you can see above, Walton finished ninth. Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star effectively split his vote, giving Gregg Popovich a first place nod while slotting Kerr in second and Walton in third. You can see how each person voted here.
Some might say Walton deserves the bulk of the credit, or even the award itself, but that’s not right. The Warriors wouldn’t have started their season with a winning streak of record length without the foundation Kerr laid over the previous year, and whatever support he could lend while recovering from what seems like either a badly botched back surgery or a run of terrible luck (or both). They wouldn’t have been able to keep that run of excellence going through the midpoint of the season and beyond, either.
Kerr is the second Warriors coach to win the honor. The other was Don Nelson, who led the Warriors to a 55-27 mark in 1991-92. What’s interesting here is that Kerr won in a year when his team had the best record in the NBA. This wasn’t expected by some, because this award often goes to the team that beats preseason expectations in the most distinct manner.
Well, maybe that’s no longer the case.
Kerr’s victory today marks the fifth time in the last eight seasons that the coach with the league’s best record took the honor (the others were Mike Brown in 2008-09, Tom Thibodeau in 2010-11, and Popovich in 2011-12 and 2013-14). And after a year in which the Warriors set a record for victories during a regular season, all while supposedly dealing with the post-championship hangover that has affected so many teams before them, most voters probably realized that they’d look foolish in future years if someone like Terry Stotts won the award. No offense to Stotts, but his Blazers finished 29 games behind the Warriors.
Kerr pulled off a pretty massive feat, handing power to the assistant he promoted after Alvin Gentry took the Pelicans job, then stepping back in after dealing with such a painful recovery. But if the voting took place after April 7, ESPN’s Romana Shelburne might be partially responsible for Kerr winning the award today for writing a piece titled, “Steve Kerr has suffered more than you will ever know.”
There is no satisfactory explanation for why Kerr developed his headaches. A current theory is that the change in the volume of spinal fluid after the initial surgery knocked his body out of homeostasis and contributed to a condition known as new daily persistent headache syndrome. But it’s just a theory. He has had a terrible migraine basically every day since July. Some days he’ll feel better and go for a hike. Other days he’ll be seeing spots and looking for a chair to grab or a wall to lean on so he doesn’t fall over.
For some, there’s a tendency to give a bulk of the credit for the 2015-16 Warriors success to Walton, and that clearly occurred with 41 of the 130 voters who didn’t list Kerr on their ballots. But anyone who read Shelburne’s story or follows the Warriors closely knows Kerr had a more challenging year than any NBA coach (well, besides Dave Joerger, whose entire team fell apart due to injuries). Coach of the Year is a silly award (although not quite as meaningless as Sixth Man of the Year), since several recent winners went on to be fired shortly afterward. But this year, because of the Warriors’ historic effort and Kerr’s medical issues, it’s an award that seems to mean a little more than in years past.