If the Golden State Warriors move on from Mark Jackson, a coach who has the support of his players and back-to-back playoff berths under his belt, they'd better be sure a superior option is available.
Steve Kerr might be that option.
The latest rumor, via Marc Berman of the New York Post, says Kerr, a man with less head coaching experience than Jackson (which is to say "none at all") might be interested in the gig if the Dubs came calling:
However, one thing that can derail Kerr’s getting hired by the Knicks is if the Warriors lose their first-round series to the Clippers on Saturday and coach Mark Jackson is let go. Kerr, whose family lives in San Diego, may listen if approached by the Warriors.
For a Warriors team still smarting from postseason elimination, this is a situation that begs for cautionary cliches.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. You get the idea.
The point is, the Warriors have a tough decision to make, and it seems like they don't have much time to make it. Kerr is probably already picking out fonts and thickness on his New York Knicks business cards.
So, what should the Dubs do?
The Case for Kerr
Phil Jackson wants him. Isn't that enough?
Aside from the favor of the game's greatest coach, there's also Kerr's impressive track record to consider. Mark Jackson talked all season about how fans in Golden State should appreciate the good times, which makes some sense. Fifty one-win seasons don't come along often for the Warriors, and it had been 20 years since the Dubs made back-to-back playoff trips.
But the Phoenix Suns averaged 52 wins per season with Kerr as general manager. That doesn't say much about his coaching acumen, but it indicates he's familiar with success. In Kerr's final season with the Suns, they made the conference finals.
Plus, Kerr won rings under both Jackson and Gregg Popovich. He also saw the worst of the NBA during his early-2000's stint with the infamous "Jail Blazers." In other words, he's got plenty of valuable experience in the league.
Whatever you could say about Jackson's playing career preparing him to coach the Warriors, you can also say about Kerr's. And even if it's a touchy subject to broach, it's worth mentioning that Kerr isn't a guy who'll rub the media and fans the wrong way with a defiant, sometimes blustery demeanor.
Everybody likes and respects Kerr.
And practically speaking, there are connections that already exist between Kerr and the Warriors, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
NBA coaching sources have maintained for weeks that the Golden State Warriors have strong interest in Kerr, should they elect to part ways with Mark Jackson after a 50-win season, given Kerr's strong relationships with Warriors owner Joe Lacob, son Kirk Lacob (who works in Golden State's front office) and Warriors president Rick Welts, with whom Kerr worked closely in Phoenix.
Those relationships are important, and Kerr's closeness to a number of Warriors executives could make a transition fairly easy.
You also get the sense Kerr is more flexible in his approach, something the Warriors will definitely want in their next coach after dealing with Jackson's noted stubbornness.
We saw him change philosophies in midstream with the Suns, abandoning a run-and-gun approach and adding Shaquille O'Neal in order to compete against bigger foes in the West. Kerr also speaks open-mindedly about analytics, something that is obvious in his work as an a television analyst and evidenced by his presence at the 2014 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference.
You can sense some of his inquisitiveness and mental flexibility in comments he made to Russell Simon of CrabDribbles.com:
If you shoot a ton of threes, we know the math works out – you shoot 50 percent from two, and 33 percent from three and it’s the same thing – but what’s the deeper implication? What about the long rebounds? What about those times when you’re not pulling the ball out of the net, and you’re running a fast-break? How does that affect the defense, and the team that’s shooting all those three’s? That’s what I’m interested in.
Kerr is intelligent, has a great NBA pedigree and has won as both a player and an executive. The greatest head coach of all time wants him to be his first hire in New York. All those things are pretty good indications the Warriors should be hot on his heels.
The Case Against Kerr
In some ways, replacing Jackson with Kerr doesn't feel like much of a change at all.
Like Jackson, Kerr is a former point guard with no coaching experience at any level—not even as an assistant.
And like Jackson, Kerr studied under sharp minds and had a reputation as a smart player.
Those are oversimplifications, and there are obvious differences between Kerr and Jackson. But there's no way to be sure Kerr is the superior coach because, well, we've never seen him coach before.
If the Dubs land Kerr, he'll have to build a new scheme and culture, not to mention address potentially complicated relationships with players—many of whom have been actively stumping for Jackson for months.
It's worth noting here that I don't think there's any real chance the Warriors players won't embrace Kerr. He's a good guy and, like Jackson, he'll have the immediate respect that comes with being a former player. The Dubs players like Jackson, but there aren't any truly disruptive personalities on the roster—with the possible exception of Andrew Bogut, who is probably the current Warriors player most desirous of a new coach anyway.
There should also be concerns about the triangle offense. Phil Jackson wants Kerr in large part because he knows the mystical offensive system and would implement it in New York. Would he also try it in Golden State?
Would it even make sense with the Dubs' current personnel?
And could Kerr pull it off without Jackson overseeing the process?
The potential exists for the Warriors' underachieving offense to look even worse if it has to go through the pains of learning a new and complicated system. And with a team trying to win right now, there might simply not be time to suffer through a long learning curve. Perhaps it makes more sense to stick with Jackson and hope he makes adjustments to the system already in place.
Overall, it seems dangerous to toss out a guy who has won almost 100 games over the past two seasons. That's a decision you make only if you're firmly convinced the next man can do better.
Thinking that's true of Kerr involves a pretty significant leap of faith.
Verdict: Oh, Just Go For It
All things being equal, it's hard to push for a pursuit of Kerr. But the Dubs' current situation feels untenable.
Management hasn't extended a meaningful vote of confidence toward Jackson, always an ominous sign. And Jackson's failure to work with two assistants—Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman—regarded by most around the league as very capable, is a real problem. He clashed openly with Scalabrine, and Erman got the axe because he was taping conversations between coaches and staff.
That's a bizarre practice under any circumstances. But Erman was being marginalized by Jackson's divided coaching staff.
The odd details, per Grantland's Zach Lowe:
Erman was concerned Mark Jackson and other coaches loyal to Jackson were insulting Erman to other players behind Erman’s back. ... The tension with Erman got weird. Midseason, the team moved Erman’s parking spot to a less convenient place, likely at the behest of Jackson or one of Jackson’s allies on the staff, per multiple sources familiar with the matter. They began changing his duties in strange ways.
That Erman, fired by Golden State, was hired almost immediately by the high-functioning Boston Celtics says something about where smart NBA minds fall on the issue of his worth.
Jackson has painted himself into a corner with the media, acting consistently contentious and occasionally condescending. Apparently, he hasn't made any friends within the organization either.
At some point, we have to acknowledge the common factor in every instance of Dubs turmoil this past season was Jackson. You'd have to have a serious blind spot, or perhaps a persecution complex, to believe Jackson is the innocent victim of unfair ownership in all of those incidents.
Maybe it's crazy to give up on Jackson just because he can't get along with subordinates, peers or superiors. But that's how people get fired in the real world, isn't it?
Kicking Jackson aside and pursuing Kerr would be bold, but the Warriors need to be bold. And management has never shied away from the aggressive pursuit of big names (see: Howard, Dwight).
The relationship between Jackson and Golden State seems broken. So while Kerr might not be a guaranteed improvement, he's still smart, easy to work with and has had greater career success than Jackson has.
It's too bad things turned out like this for Jackson, but it's time for Golden State to go all-in on its next big move.
It's time to take the plunge on Kerr.