What Steve Kerr Brings to Golden State Warriors That Mark Jackson Didn't

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

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Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson are two very different people, and you can bet the Golden State Warriors are perfectly happy about that.

After all, the Dubs wouldn't have hired Kerr to be their next head coach if he had much in common with the man they'd just fired.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Dubs got their man:

Putting aside the shock of Kerr walking away from Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks is difficult, but in order to get a handle on what kind of leader he'll be for the Warriors, we have to leave East Coast concerns behind.

This is the dawn of a new era in Golden State, one in which ownership will be completely out of excuses.

So, what exactly does Kerr bring to the Dubs that Jackson couldn't?

Disaster Averted

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The Warriors cut loose a coach with two straight playoff appearances on his resume, and one a large contingent of Bay Area fans supported. That meant it was imperative to follow Jackson with somebody capable of making a real splash.

Though the circumstances of Jackson's departure were complicated, the situation got reductive treatment from many observers. Golden State, many said, had better have a darn good succession plan in mind.

Losing out on Stan Van Gundy, who was probably the best option for the job (or at least the most accomplished) was a devastating blow. And with Kerr seemingly tucked into bed with the Knicks, the Warriors were facing the possibility of hiring a retread coach.

That's not intended as a knock on Lionel Hollins, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan or whoever was next on the list. But it would have been a lateral move to hire any of those guys—at best.

Kerr is the shiny name, the intriguing, untested talent everybody wanted. He's the big "get," and the Dubs got him.

If they hadn't, the decision to can Jackson would have looked bad.

The first thing Kerr brings to Golden State is an overwhelming sense of relief.

Works Well With Others

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Kerr has been a general manager at the NBA level before—with the Phoenix Suns from 2007-08 to 2009-10. His teams averaged 52 wins per season, but that's probably not the reason Golden State wanted him.

After three years of Jackson and his us-versus-them mentality creating a rift between himself and management, the Warriors needed someone with whom they knew they could work. Kerr has a history with ownership and management that makes collaboration seem much likelier than it was with Jackson.

Dubs president Rick Welts served that same role when Kerr was in Phoenix, and owner Joe Lacob has known Kerr for years.

Jackson was standoffish, always taking offers of help or suggestions as personal affronts.

You could see his defensiveness in press conferences and in his reluctance to credit assistants (especially former lead assistant Mike Malone). To put it bluntly, Jackson was just as concerned with getting the job done as he was with getting credit for it.

"League sources say Jackson is very insecure about his assistants getting credit," Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote shortly after assistant coach Brian Scalabrine was demoted in March. "He doesn't allow them to speak on the record to print media, and Scalabrine did not respond to requests from The Chronicle for a comment."

There's no question Kerr's connections to management will help. He's got history with many of the big decision-makers in the organization, and he wouldn't have taken the job if that history included any significant sources of discord.

Even if this feels uncomfortably close to cronyism, Kerr can't possibly get along with management and his co-workers worse than Jackson did.


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You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a single instance during Jackson's tenure in which he was credited for making a significant in-game adjustment or employing a particular scheme that baffled the opposing coach.

It just didn't happen, and there seems to be a good reason for that: Jackson didn't put in the work.

Per Wojnarowski: "Jackson's lack of interest in game preparation and reluctance to practice despite a mostly young and gifted roster played a part in management's reluctance to commit long term to him, league sources said."

And it's not just league sources who called Jackson's preparation into question. He did it himself.

In a radio interview with KNBR 680 (via a tweet from Kevin Draper of thedissnba.com), Jackson had this to say about pregame study:

Um, you won't hear this from anybody else, but I think it's overrated. Do you mean to tell me I've got to stay up to figure out that Chris Paul is a superstar basketball player and he's going to be tough defending on pick and rolls? Or Blake Griffin? I've got to stay up to figure out how to defend him in the post situation and keep him [out of] transition?

You do your work, you're prepared and then you go out and handle your business. But to me, I really believe it is overrated. That doesn't mean you don't do the job, but I'm going to get my rest. I'm not going to grow old and be stressed out and get gray hair.

Nobody's saying Kerr will be some kind of detail-obsessed taskmaster. But it would be hard for him to come off as less prepared than Jackson was.


Say what you want about the red flags marking the Knicks situation—getting Kerr to pull away from a coaching job under Phil Jackson in the world's biggest media market is no small thing.

Yes, the Warriors offered an extra fifth year on the deal. And yes, Kerr had plenty of other things pulling him West:

But the Dubs have fancied themselves as an elite organization from the moment Lacob and Co. took over three seasons ago. The team is moving to a new arena in San Francisco in the near future, and ownership has talked of building a championship contender and running a first-class operation forever.

Getting Kerr—against all odds—proves the Dubs have arrived.

Remember, this is a team just a few years removed from being one of the worst-run franchises in sports. There were decades of incompetence and penny pinching that resulted in the utter waste of one of the best markets and fanbases in sports.

The Warriors are a destination now. Getting Kerr to turn his back on Phil Jackson and the Knicks proves that.

And that's a big deal.

The Unknown

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The rest of Kerr's positives are little more than speculative. Perhaps you've heard: He's never coached before.

The hope is, he'll utilize the roster to its full potential, maintaining a top-notch defense and enlivening a substandard offense with a few innovative tweaks.

The hope is, he'll make smoother adjustments, take note when lineups aren't working and show more flexibility—personally and professionally—than Jackson ever did.

Kerr's on-the-fly decision to pick the Warriors over the Knicks indicates he's not the stubborn type. He recognized the facts in front of him and made the right decision, even after coming close to making the wrong one.

The key here is that these hopes are more likely to be realized with Kerr than they were with Jackson because Kerr won't put himself on an island like his predecessor. The Warriors will populate the bench with smart minds to replace the staff it fired along with Jackson. And now Golden State won't be constrained by the fragile ego of its head coach when picking assistants.

There'll be an offensive guru, a defensive mastermind and a couple of up-and-coming hotshots—none of whom Jackson would have had the security to work with.

Kerr gives the Warriors the chance to move into the next (and perhaps final) phase of their organizational development. Not because he's as accomplished a coach as Jackson was, and not because he's guaranteed to be a brilliant mind who everyone loves.

But because he's willing to accept help.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Jackson insisted on doing things his way and bristled whenever collaborative opportunities arose. It didn't work.

No, Kerr hasn't made an overt public spectacle of his ability to work with others. But it's more than fair to assume that Warriors management would make that ability a high priority after what happened with the outgoing coach.

There's an old proverb that encapsulates what Kerr means to the Warriors, and what he brings that Jackson never did:

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Kerr will work hard, trust the minds around him and embrace input in a way Jackson never did. Even though Golden State improved in a hurry under Jackson, it stalled out amid interpersonal strife and organizational division.

Kerr's willingness to work together enables the Warriors to go further.


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