The beginning of Tuesday’s press conference that introduced the new head coach of the Golden State Warriors was your standard Fitz-fest, a celebration of Steve Kerr’s basketball lineage. The main (only?) newsworthy component came from general manager Bob Myers (Joe Lacob didn’t take the stage today — he was seated in the front row, as you can see in the photo above) describing how Kerr rebuffed the Warriors’ initial overtures because he was still in talks with the Knicks.
The New York Post reported that Phil Jackson lowballed Kerr with a three-year offer at the same annual rate that Kerr agreed to with Golden State for five years, so draw your own conclusions there.
When the presser was opened up to questions, Kerr and Myers were short on details about what would occur on the court or with the roster. Kerr declined to agree with Mark Jackson’s assertion (made frequently in the days after his termination) that the Warriors are a championship team, and in doing so both complimented Jackson and downgraded his accomplishments at the same time.
“I think Mark Jackson did an excellent job, particularly in emphasizing defense and rebounding and toughness. You think about where this club was three years ago. The entire identity has changed. A lot of that has to do with Mark, a lot of it has to do with the roster, a lot of it has to do with the new organization and the new leadership,” Kerr said.
“As far as whether this is a championship team, this is a very good team. It was three games away from being the fourth seed in the West and hosting home court. It was three games away from being out of the playoffs.”
Kerr, as one can easily see, is a master at “playing the game.” And anyone reading this who’s been following the Warriors in recent years knows that “the game,” in this case, isn’t basketball.
Since the Warriors haven’t won quite as many basketball games as teams like the Spurs, Thunder and Heat over the past couple seasons, Lacob and Myers have had to admit some mistakes. Mostly they did so by firing Jackson, and then by speaking in vague terms about some of the errors they made while employing him. Jackson made no such admissions during his media tour, which had to make the Warriors’ first meeting with Kerr seem like a breath of fresh air.
“Any time a team has success and has a good year and the coach is fired, there’s questions,” Kerr said. “I had a lot of questions. I felt like I gained a lot of clarity on the circumstances of the situation. I think was was probably most refreshing to me was Bob and Joe admitted mistakes along the way in the process the last few years. I shared mistakes that I made in Phoenix as a general manager. One of the things that’s really tricky before you get into the NBA is a lot of high level relationships, and how they manifest themselves, and the pressure, the constant pressure that comes from fans and media. It’s not easy to deal with. You think getting in it’s going to be easier than it really is. I made mistakes as a GM in Phoenix. I shared some of those with the Warriors group. They shared some of theirs with me. And ultimately I think it’s good that we’ve had experiences in the past that we can grow from.”
Kerr declined to provide details on the mistakes he made in Phoenix. Instead, he said exactly what the Warriors probably wanted to hear.
“The most important thing that I’ve learned in sports is owner, GM, coach, that troika, that relationship between those three is critical. The relationship between those three will determine how you get through those bumps, that adversity,” said Kerr, who undoubtedly took to heart Lacob’s comments about how Jackson could’ve done a better job managing up and sideways.
Kerr and Myers know each other from Kerr’s days as a general manager with the Phoenix Suns, as Myers was a part of the agency that represented former Suns draft pick Robin Lopez. Kerr described Lacob as both an “acquaintance” and “kind of friend of a friend.” (Golf did not come up today.) Kerr also mentioned building a strong, lasting friendship with Warriors president Rick Welts during his Phoenix days. The Warriors brass probably believes Kerr will boost the team’s offensive capabilities, but it also seems as if they simply like him more than the previous head coach.
“That was the question that rose up the most: How are you going to overcome the lack of coaching experience? The best thing I heard in that response was he didn’t run for that,” Myers said.
“Steve said, ‘I didn’t coach before. I’m well aware of that, but I’m going to work hard and surround myself with people that can help me get better. And each and every day, I’m going to become a little bit better than the day before as a coach in this league.’ And we believe that. For us it was the right answer.
“It was confidence combined with humility, and we love that combination of Steve.”
Jackson possesses enough of the former attribute to go around, and a lot of his players benefitted from borrowing some of that confidence. As for the latter … well, it’s probably safe to say the Warriors found that lacking with Jackson, whose assistants had no more head coaching experience than he did three years ago.
Not only will the experience level of the Warriors’ assistants skyrocket under Kerr, but this time the Warriors will have a say in who sits next to him on the bench.
“We’ll certainly collaborate, but bottom line — any coach in the NBA at the head coaching level picks their staff, needs to be comfortable with their staff. We’re very confident Steve will do that,” Myers said.
Kerr was in lockstep with the rest of the “troika.”
“The staff absolutely matters and it will be huge for me, not only this coming year but many years ahead. I won’t offer any names. I can tell you there are a lot of them,” said Kerr.
“But I have a list and Bob has assisted me with that list along with Travis (Schlenk). We’re talking every day about potential candidates. I know that I want head coaching experience next to me. So that will be something you’ll see.”
This is just the beginning, as Kerr still needs to finish out his TNT responsibilities before he can finalize a staff. Then there’s the whole thing about a team to coach and games to win. A press conference like this tells us nothing about how far this team will go. What it did tell us is how different Kerr is from Jackson, who came in telling the world how “things be changing.” Jackson wanted to lead with one voice (his) and Kerr is more than happy to admit he doesn’t have all the answers. That quality — humility shown in meetings with his superiors — could help Kerr more easily withstand the questions that are sure to come whenever tough times occur.