OAKLAND, Calif. -- Steve Kerr returned, specifically to a 122-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers. It was a win that, ironically, conveyed how the Warriors were able to carry on in their leader's absence. If you tuned in, you didn't just see Stephen Curry's casually dazzling 39 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. You also saw a glimpse of the culture Kerr informed. You saw a team able to laugh with and at itself. You saw how the Warriors have mostly staved off the recriminations that tear locker rooms apart.
There was a glimpse in seeing Draymond Green and Kerr crack up during a first-quarter timeout. Green had fired up a bad shot, then joked to Kerr that he was only trying to get a rise out of the newly returned coach. "I told Steph and Luke [Walton] before the game, I'm fixing to jack one, so he can yell at me." Green said, "But he didn't yell. So I told him he's slipping."
If Kerr's slipping, Curry and Green played too brilliantly for anybody to notice. Curry's dominance was obvious, Green's a bit more subtle. In addition to some wrenching steals, Green forced Pacers star Paul George into a lowlight reel of shanked jump shots.
Kerr made light of his own influence, appraising, "Great coaching," after the game as the explanation for why Curry sank two stunning half-court shots (one that counted, one that didn't). On one Curry basket, Kerr walked back to the bench smiling and shaking his head. He was trying to call timeout but was overridden by his superstar's improvisational genius. Curry hadn't noticed and sank a difficult long-range floater. On the situations where Curry favors using a high screen over a Kerr construction, Kerr said, "We're better off doing that than me drawing up a play."
Kerr even handed the clipboard to (now former) interim coach Luke Walton as he went to his in-game TV interview. "Draw something up," Kerr invited, as Walton protested. Of deferring in this situation, Kerr explained, "We do think that everything is collaborative with our staff."
With Kerr returning, happily, to great cheers, it can be taken for granted that his absence went as well as it did. Warriors officials were certainly nervous when Kerr was forced to take leave, back in October. Luke Walton was untested, 35 years old, not far removed from coaching player development in the D-League. On other teams, a sudden power vacuum can be disastrous. In Cleveland, the top seed in the other conference, we might be seeing the corrosive effects of misplaced authority.
Center Andrew Bogut explained, "If you don't have a team that polices itself and has professional and humble guys, it can hit the fan." That just doesn't apply to the players, either. A situation where one coach briefly replaces another and has immense success could be troublesome elsewhere.
On those kinds of troublesome situations, Bogut noted, "Saw [coaching conflict] today, obviously. Yeah, I mean, look, in this league there's a lot head assistants [who] are knifing the head coach. There's been situations like the one, couple years ago, you can look it up, not going to mention who it was, but coaches have gone from the back of the bench to the front of the bench within six months. And, generally it's as competitive on those coaching benches and selfish as bad teams with players."
Bogut summarized the sanguine state of the Warriors: "It's a breath of fresh air to have a coaching staff who all understand their role and do the right thing."
From the outside, the operation looks copacetic from the top down. Fissures often form between GMs and coaches, but there isn't much indication of that based on what Kerr said of Golden State GM Bob Myers. "Bob is an amazing human being," Kerr relayed before the game. He added, "I think I've spoken with him pretty much every day, it seems like it, close to it. And his support is just incredible. There's no conditions to it. He's going to support me and cares about me."
Myers has a particular, favorite John Woodenism that he's fond of quoting: "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit."
Are the Warriors living this aphorism? Probably not exactly. No operation is quite that monastic in pursuit of excellence. The Warriors do indeed employ human beings, who, on occasion, care about how their contributions are viewed. But it also seems the Warriors have done a commendable job of subverting ego and supporting one another -- better than most teams. It's a collective approach that happens to be winning.
The NBA is a league fraught with ego and job insecurity, forces that work against productive collective action. The Warriors are attempting to fight against the tide, to build a juggernaut that rises above resentments. It might be a naive, utopian vision, but perhaps those are the best visions to chase. With Steve Kerr back, the Warriors are realizing what they want to be, while laughing all the way.