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Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Time to get to know Steve Kerr, the coach

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss


You don’t know Steve Kerr, the coach, even if it seems like you do.

Neither do the Golden State Warriors, though they have more information than most on the matter. They’re largely guessing and so are we.

Just as it was easy to assume Mark Jackson, the coach, would be exactly like Mark Jackson, the color commentator, it’s natural to judge the Kerr hire based on his announcing. Mark Jackson taught us that these assumptions are flawed, that a broadcaster is an actor playing a character on TV.

As a coach, Jackson couldn’t be summed up by his handful of colorful catchphrases. He brought an array of qualities and concerns that were hidden from broadcasts. For example, religious preaching, a galvanizing and possibly dividing feature of his coaching, was largely absent from the booth.

With this in mind, who knows what multitudes Steve Kerr hides, obfuscates or simplifies for a TV audience? He has been playing “Steve Kerr” for a medium that cannot convey much of his personality and management style.

That’s not to say that Kerr will or won’t impress us. We simply don’t know, which is why his hire is a letdown compared to the assuring prospect of Stan Van Gundy.

If the coaching candidates were ranked, Van Gundy would have owned the top tier. A proven commodity, Van Gundy is arguably the second best coach behind Gregg Popovich. That’s an easy, low-risk, high-reward hire to herald. It’s difficult to envision how a skilled offensive and defensive coach like Van Gundy could screw up in Golden State.

With a rookie coach, it’s easy to imagine how it might all go sideways. To be fair, Kerr’s GM reputation is that of a smart, intellectually curious manager who’s inclined to canvas multiple opinions. The latter quality is something the Warriors crave after Jackson’s “my way or the highway” approach.

Kerr also brings a sense of how a great offense functions, given his stewardship of the latter Nash-era Phoenix Suns. Stephen Curry boasts many similarities to Nash in his prime, but has yet to play for an elite offense. The Warriors are certainly hoping that Kerr will be the bridge to that destination.

How this influences Golden State’s defense is a giant mystery. Mark Jackson and his since-exiled assistants combined to finally foster a defensive culture in Golden State. There exists the possibility that it’s impossible not to have a great defense with Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green in tow. We’re about to find out how much of their success on that end was attributed to Jackson’s brand of motivational coaching.

One loser in this hiring process might be David Lee, someone Stan Van Gundy regularly, publicly complimented (Van Gundy once called Lee the league’s most underrated player on the Dan Le Batard radio show). There’s an open question as to where Lee fits going forward. He’s skilled offensively, but struggles defensively and doesn’t space the floor with strong outside shooting. Kerr’s Suns teams used spacing as the fuel for their offense.

Perhaps Lee has been languishing in Mark Jackson’s iso-heavy system and he’s about to flourish under Kerr. The Lee question is one of a few major ones Kerr will be tasked with solving as he confronts high expectations in a cutthroat Western Conference. As for Kerr himself, questions abound. How good a coach is this guy? Nobody knows, and we’re about to find out.