Is Steve Kerr More Than Just a Trendy Hire for the Golden State Warriors?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Coach Steve Kerr of Team Shaq responds to reporters during a press conference prior to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge as part of 2012 All-Star Weekend at the Amway Center on February 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

We've yet to see Steve Kerr coach a game for the Golden State Warriors. We've yet to see him coach a game for anyone.

But there are clues as to what kind of leader he'll be, enough clues in fact for the organization to give him a contract worth five years and $22 million. You don't hand that kind of money to an unknown quantity. And Kerr isn't one, not in any meaningful sense.

We've had the opportunity to listen to his coaching philosophy for years. We've seen him at work as a general manager with the Phoenix Suns. And we know this much about his coaching pedigree: He's learned from two of the very best in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich.

Nevertheless, questions will linger.

There's no denying Kerr's game IQ, but there's also no denying that more proven commodities existed. Jerry Sloan is still out there for crying out loud. And it goes without saying Mark Jackson had more of a coaching record than Kerr, a pretty good one at that.

Is there any chance the Warriors got caught up in a race that had more to do with bragging rights than winning basketball games? Was this about stealing Phil Jackson's prized treasure from the grips of the New York Knicks?

Or was this a basketball decision?

There will be those who secretly believe Kerr is more sound than substance, especially given his recent history as a man whose job is literally to sound off on TV. No one wants to say it, because by all accounts Kerr is a really nice guy. No one wants to rain on his parade, at least not prematurely.

Nor does anyone want to be proven wrong. Even if you secretly harbor reservations about the Kerr hiring, you're probably smart enough to know this could go either way. There's a decent chance this turns into a smooth move by the Warriors and owner Joe Lacob.

We can't know how this will end up, nor can we be entirely certain about Golden State's motives. But we can speculate—oh, how we can speculate.

There are plenty of reasons to believe this hire was about basketball and basketball alone.

And to be fair, there's one caveat, so let's get that out of the way.

Part of basketball involves the management of human resources. Part of basketball involves public relations, instilling trust in the fanbase, giving ownership a measure of confidence that the ship will sail smoothly.

This is true in basketball, and it's true in life.

That was a problem for Mark Jackson.

According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, one of Jackson's assistants had secretly taped conversations with the head coach and others:

Sources said [Darren] Erman, who was coach Mark Jackson's second assistant, would record coaches' meetings, meetings between the coaches and players, and informal discussions among coaches that took place in the team's coaches room -- all without the participants' knowledge.

'He was taping everything,' one source said. 'Taping pregame speeches wouldn't have been that bad, but he was taping guys just sitting around talking in the coaches' office.'

It's hard to blame Jackson for those kinds of shenanigans, but even he admits he should have better scrutinized those with whom he surrounded himself, via Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver:

As far as assistants, you have to pick people who are loyal and dedicated. It's inexcusable what the second assistant [Erman] did. That cannot be tolerated. For folks to say, two situations, it's obviously documented that they both were 100 percent wrong. The only fault I got is hiring those guys. I would use wisdom in who is around me.

The other assistant who rubbed Jackson the wrong way was, of course, Brian Scalabrine, who was demoted to the team's Development League affiliate in March, reportedly for arguing with another one of the assistants, per Jordan Ramirez of Warriors World (h/t ProBasketballTalk's Dan Feldman).

These are the kinds of problems Steve Kerr probably won't have. Whereas Jackson was defined by stubbornness, Kerr is a people-pleaser. He's also a people-manager. Some might question just how much his GM experience will translate into coaching, but it's precisely the kind of experience that Jackson needed.

Kerr knows how to hire people. He knows how to view things from an organizational perspective. It's not about whether he was an especially good GM—it's the extent to which the experience prepared him to manage. Now he'll simply be managing in a more hands-on fashion.

A deeper look at his GM days is telling, though. He was the one who drafted Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic. Though it's taken Lopez a few years to develop, he's been a double-double machine in his last two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans and now Portland Trail Blazers.

Dragic has similarly matured into a revelation, averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists this season for the Suns.

Kerr is also the guy who brought in veteran Grant Hill and spread 4 Channing Frye, the latter of whom remains an integral piece for Phoenix to this day.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for Kerr-the-GM. He drafted Earl Clark. He traded for an ill-fitting Shaquille O'Neal. But no general manager gets it right every single time. And the lessons learned from missteps may be just as valuable as the successes.

A coaching record it's not, but there is a record indicating Kerr understands something about personnel. He knows how to build teams, and that should pay dividends when it comes to building the right coaching staff. It will also help him understand how best to fit Golden State's pieces together, how to make the most of guys such as Harrison Barnes, who seemed to lose his way a little bit after the acquisition of Andre Iguodala.

Kerr gets team dynamics. He's been there and done that. Coaching may be a less alien venture to him than some have surmised.

And while likability isn't in and of itself an especially important indicator of success, it could be vital in this particular locker room. Given how beloved Jackson was by his players, hiring the wrong replacement could have led to something just short of mutiny. The Warriors will like Kerr, even if they still miss Jackson. They will buy in.

The San Jose Mercury News' Marcus Thompson II notes that the Warrior who matters most is already off to a splendid start with Kerr:

His feelings about Jackson aside, [Stephen] Curry likes Kerr. If he had to have another coach, which management concluded he did, he likes what Kerr brings.

And he really liked that Kerr called him to talk before the news broke. Curry had just returned from a family vacation in Mexico, and that conversation went a long way for the star point guard.

Curry said he and Kerr have further plans to talk about the new system and get to know each other better. But Curry already has a good relationship with Kerr and is convinced the incoming philosophies and connections will help them win.

And he doesn't see Kerr having a problem meshing with the guys in the locker room.

Coming on the heels of Jackson, that kind of rapport-building matters immensely. The players need to like Kerr, and they will. Sometimes nice guys finish first for good reason, and Kerr's affability is allowing him to build capital from day one.

The Warriors will need to do their part, too, but it's a lot easier to forgive and forget when the new guy in town is Steve Kerr. As Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher notes, "The Warriors, collectively, are regarded as a high-character group and are almost certain to give Kerr every chance to show that he is the upgrade over Jackson that Lacob has promised."

It's a two-way street, to be sure. And it shouldn't be too hard for both sides to traverse the road ahead professionally and—importantly—as a team. There's no pretense with Kerr, no sense that he's above everyone else. The praise he's elicited isn't driven by self-aggrandizement. It comes precisely because he's so humble and self-effacing.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: TNT Broadcasters Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr and Kevin Harlan pose for a photo prior to the game of the Chicago Bulls  against the Boston Celtics on April 5, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Finally, there's plenty to be said about Kerr's basketball mind. All the feel-good messaging and management acuity won't count for much if he can't master the X's and O's. But by all accounts, he's in prime position to do just that.

Thompson notes that the Warriors "wanted an advanced offensive mind, someone to usher them into the new era of basketball and metrics. Kerr has been identified in executive circles as such a mind." His game commentary isn't laced with complicated statistics, nor should it be given audiences comprised largely of average fans.

Don't be fooled by the crowd-pleasing analysis. Kerr is an astute student of the game. He told the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami, "I've been preparing for this for a while. I've really thought things through in terms of my coaching philosophy. There's all kinds of stuff I have.. [sic] I guess you would call my doctrines, just putting my thoughts on paper."

Going into more detail about his plans for the Warriors, Kerr told Kawakami:

It will be influenced by the Triangle but it will not look like the Bulls of the '90s, I can tell you that.

The game has changed and I think my philosophy would reflect that. For instance, I would be crazy to do away with screen and roll with Steph—he's devastating in it. We'll do plenty of that.

But we have the opportunity to make some strides offensively and I think that will be reflected in my influences—which have been Popovich and Phil and Lenny Wilkens...

They've all been coaches who emphasized ball movement, spacing and flow and having a a system to rely on and that's what i'm [sic] looking to give.

Behind the scenes, Kerr is plenty smart. He understands play-calling. He knows how to make coaching decisions. He's been around the game so much and in so many capacities. And it's not just that he's played for Jackson and Popovich; it's that he did so as a guy who had to get by on his aptitude rather than athleticism.

He had to master shooting mechanics and the art of getting open. He had to learn how to execute in intricate offensive systems. He had to absorb the very things that have made his TV analysis so compelling.

The same could be said for someone such as Reggie Miller—even Mark Jackson. They say interesting things about basketball because they actually had to learn how to play basketball. These were never guys who could jump out of a gym. They were skilled and intelligent.

None of that guarantees Kerr will be successful. It just shows that he's well-equipped, and that's really all you can ask for.

That's really the best the Warriors could hope for.


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