What NBA Team Needs Steve Kerr the Most?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie and former professional basketball player Steve Kerr talk during Connecticut's practice for their NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Friday, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. Connecticut plays Florida on Saturday, April 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Every NBA team with an head coaching vacancy wants Steve Kerr, with big-name, big-market franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors heading up the list of pursuers over the past couple of weeks.

The current broadcaster and former player is an intriguing candidate, if not one whose experience completely explains the widespread desire to hand him a job as head coach. He's obviously sharp, well-respected and seems willing to embrace the analytical approach most smart front offices utilize nowadays.

You can't go five minutes without seeing another headline crop up touting a team's interest in him. You can't scroll through Twitter without seeing him linked to three different jobs at once.

Clearly, interest isn't an issue. Everyone wants Kerr.

But who needs him?


Los Angeles Lakers

Dec 31, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center. The Bucks defeated the Lakers 94-79. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers need a lot of things, and the sheer volume of those needs might push Kerr down the list a bit.

For starters, they have to field an actual roster, and the current uncertainty of having just three players under guaranteed contracts next year makes the Lakers a weird spot for a coach to land—especially one with as many options as Kerr.

If the Lakers would give personnel decisions to their incoming coach, it'd be easier to see how a relatively clean slate would be appealing. But Mitch Kupchak handles that stuff, and that's not likely to change.

Then there's Kobe Bryant. I'm not sure anybody, let alone a young coach with no experience, would want to deal with No. 24's impatience. Bryant is starting his controversial two-year deal this season, and nobody knows what his body will allow him to do going forward. It's safe to assume he won't be a happy guy if he can't play like the Kobe of old.

And unhappy Kobe is no fun at all for a coach.

The rumors linking Kerr to L.A. feel more like a leverage play than anything else. The Lakers probably want somebody with pre-existing franchise ties to take over, and Kerr may be using them as a way to raise his price for deep-pocketed teams like the Warriors and Knicks who really do have a chance to get him.

Forget need; I'm not even sure the Lakers want Kerr.


Golden State Warriors

Apr 24, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob reacts after a call against the Los Angeles Clippers during the fourth quarter of game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Los Angeles Clippers defeat

Mark Jackson's firing still has plenty of fans up in arms, and the prevailing sentiment seems to be that the Warriors have to knock everyone's socks off with their next hire.

We all know that's not true, by the way. Fans who supported Jackson will continue to do so regardless of who signs on to replace him. Unless the Dubs win 65 games, dug-in defenders will continue to bellow about the injustice of firing a coach nobody besides a few players liked.

Fan sentiment aside, the Warriors should definitely want Kerr because of his connections to key figures in the organization like President Rick Welts and owner Joe Lacob. Kerr has a solid history of working collaboratively, a welcome change from Jackson's standoffish tendencies.

There's no question Kerr has an ego—you don't have the kind of professional success he's had without one—but he'll probably listen when Jerry West has tips to offer. And he doesn't seem like a guy who'd alienate bosses, co-workers and half the locker room.

The latest rumblings, per Frank Isola of the New York Dailly News, makes the Dubs' affection for Kerr clear:

According to a league source, Warriors owner Joe Lacob wants to hire Kerr to replace Mark Jackson, who was fired on Tuesday following three successful seasons as Golden State’s head coach. In fact, the Warriors wasted no time reaching out to Kerr, contacting him less than three hours after Jackson was dismissed. And a source maintains that the Warriors’ job is Kerr’s if he wants it.

If Kerr turns the Warriors down, they've got other options—some of which are even more enticing than him.

Golden State is, by far, the most desirable destination of those available. Sincere apologies to Minnesota, Utah and Detroit, all bad teams in locations not quite as idyllic as the Bay Area.

As an aside, those three teams obviously need Kerr more than the Warriors, Lakers or Knicks. But they're not even in the conversation as likely landing spots, so this is the first and last time you'll see them mentioned.

Anyway, the Warriors' combination of great weather, best available roster and smart, ambitious ownership is drawing interest from everybody.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 8:  Head Coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic reacts during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Indiana Pacers and the Orlando Magic during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2012 at Bankers Life Fieldhou
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Stan Van Gundy is the most high-profile example.

When someone like Stan—NBA Finals tested, a brilliant strategist with unilateral respect across the entire league—is interested in the job, that's a big deal.

In an interview Wednesday on the Amani and Eytan Show on NBC Sports Radio (h/t Pro Basketball Talk), Van Gundy said:

I think there are some positives with Golden State. As you say the talent level is there. Of the jobs that are open now they are clearly the most talented team out there. No. 2 you have a great, great fan base there, one of the best in the NBA . Number three, and I grew up there so I can speak to it, there aren’t many better places to live in the United States than the Bay Area in California. There are some positives and they are going to have a lot of people interested.

The Warriors have an unusually versatile roster. They played elite defense last year, but they also have the shooters to run up the score. Van Gundy is the most adaptable coach on the market and he has a history of winning in different ways. The unique challenges—and through-the-roof potential—of Golden State's personnel mix makes him someone the Warriors should want and need far more than Kerr.

Per Jared Dubin of Grantland:

Van Gundy is one of a very few coaches known to shape his system to the personnel on hand, rather than imposing a strict system on whatever roster he winds up with. He can be a “fit” for nearly any job he chooses. (That list, by the way, basically consists of Van Gundy, Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, and George Karl, and that’s it.) Most remember Van Gundy as a four-out, spread pick-and-roll devotee, one of the first to truly emphasize the importance of 3s and experiment with “stretch 4” types with the Orlando Magic. But before that, his Miami Heat teams slowed the pace down, almost always deploying two traditional bigs at the same time, and playing largely through Shaquille O’Neal in the post or an isolated Dwyane Wade on the wing.

Toss in a short list that includes Fred Hoiberg, Tom Thibodeau and Kevin Ollie, per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, and it's clear the Warriors have loads of options beyond Kerr.

Kerr is appealing, for sure. But the Dubs don't need him.


New York Knicks

Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the Warriors, the Knicks aren't flush with options if Kerr doesn't sign up for duty under Phil Jackson.

In that sense, this is really a question of what's at stake if the Knicks don't get their man. And as it turns out, the stakes are high.

The Knicks have Jackson and Jackson wants Kerr. That's the end of the calculus by many accounts, and it's easy to understand why Kerr is still most likely to wind up in New York, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.

For all of the question marks surrounding Kerr—lack of experience being the biggest—the facts are pretty simple: He wants the job and the Knicks don't have a suitable Plan B.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The embarrassment of watching Kerr—who they so openly courted—picking another city would be rough to handle, and a snub by Kerr would definitely deliver a blow to the hopes that Jackson could transform New York on the strength of his personality and influence alone.

If the Knicks lose out on someone so closely connected to Jackson, it should raise questions about how valuable the Zen Master's presence really is.

And unless you're thoroughly jazzed about Bill Cartwright, there just aren't any other exciting names who want the Knicks job. James Dolan's presence lingers, and uncertainty surrounds Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the roster. Those things are all huge deterrents.

Most prospective coaches know this isn't the time to sign on in New York. It'll be better to wait until things sort themselves out. Jackson is the only reason Kerr wants to work for the Knicks, but that reason might not be strong enough to overshadow the logical case for turning down the gig.

In that sense, the Knicks need Kerr more than anybody else. They have no place else to turn and risk another reality check on the state of the franchise if he walks away.

Jackson represents hope in New York. If he can't secure Kerr, the Knicks will be left, yet again, hopeless.