Mariotti: Coach of the Year? Or budding senator? 

click to enlarge After setting an NBA record with 67 wins for a first-year coach, the Warriors’ Steve Kerr is trying to add to the five rings he won as a player for the Spurs and Bulls. - MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP file photo
  • After setting an NBA record with 67 wins for a first-year coach, the Warriors’ Steve Kerr is trying to add to the five rings he won as a player for the Spurs and Bulls.

OAKLAND — Sleep.

Sounding more like your mother or your Maharishi than a basketball coach, Steve Kerr was discussing the importance of sleep patterns Sunday. "That's a big focus in the playoffs — getting your rest, eating a good meal, getting away from the media and the Internet," he was saying. "Go see a movie. Go read a book. Relax and free up your mind."

Any other coach would have been stressing over Anthony Davis' monster fourth quarter, the way the New Orleans Pelicans quickly reduced a 25-point lead to four in Game 1 of the playoffs. Or why Stephen Curry isn't getting enough calls from the officials despite arms covered in bruises and "scabs," as the MVP-in-waiting put it. Kerr? Get your sleep, boys. "It's a huge part of recovery, preparation, feeling sharp mentally and physically," he said. "I had a good night's sleep."

Zzzzzzzzzz.

Anyone surprised by this?

A perfect person, Marv Albert used to call Kerr. The comment was in jest, part of a running gag when they called games together on TNT, but the Hall of Fame broadcaster might have been onto something. Is Steve Kerr real? Has the guy ever gone awry, tripped over an adverb, paid a parking ticket, passed gas in public, done anything wrong? If we pinched him, would there be skin?

The debate is whether Kerr should be the NBA's Coach of the Year. A better question might be whether he should run for office. In a world where a lot of people don't like other people, I'm not sure anyone ever has uttered a bad word about Kerr, including Charles Barkley, who has bad words for at least half the league. When Kerr hunts down an official and is whistled for a technical foul, you have to stifle the urge to laugh. He's a lookalike cross between Neil Patrick Harris and Opie Taylor, but the secret of his popularity is a dry, self-effacing wit. The reason no one pokes too much fun at Steve Kerr, perhaps, is because Steve Kerr is too busy poking fun of Steve Kerr. He was asked if he ever flexed his muscle after making a shot the way Curry and Draymond Green did Saturday, as the Warriors were building the huge lead they couldn't protect.

"I didn't," Kerr said, "because I didn't have one."

I used to try having some fun with Kerr, suggesting he owed the highest percentage of Jordan Tax as the foremost beneficiary of a direct association with Michael Jordan. When he showed up in Chicago back in 1993, Kerr was desperate for employment, a discarded driveway shooter who agreed to the league's minimum salary. Since then, starting when Jordan advised him to "be ready" for a decoy pass that led to a championship-winning jumpshot, Kerr has lived a hoops life that would be considered charmed if charmed wasn't such a slaphappy understatement.

His success as a spot-up shooter in the Bulls' dynasty won him three title rings and led to future opportunities with the San Antonio Spurs, where he won two more rings. His coaches in Chicago and San Antonio were Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, the two greatest of the modern era, and Kerr wisely soaked up their lessons, habits, rituals and visions. Playing in the NBA Finals all those years exposed Kerr as a smart, honest and fun guy, so when it was time to retire, he became a natural hire for the national broadcast booth. Savvy and successful as a commentator, he impressed Robert Sarver, new owner of the Phoenix Suns, who appointed Kerr as boss of basketball operations after Kerr's coach at Arizona, Lute Olson, recommended him for the job.

Jordan Tax? At that point, about 65 percent? OK, 45 percent because he had to deal with a black eye thrown by Jordan during a feisty practice.

But the Life of Kerr, we now realize, is more than a good-karma theme. If he had help in receiving opportunities, he has been prepared enough to cash in — most impressively in his first season coaching the Warriors. I was among those wondering why owner Joe Lacob was so convinced that Kerr, inheriting the sensitive tumult of the Mark Jackson dismissal, would instantly succeed after never having coached in his life. Again, for now, I've been silenced. Maybe he eventually is schooled by a playoff-sophisticated coach — oh, Popovich in the Western Conference finals — and we'll be allowed to say this for the first time in two-plus decades: Kerr wasn't ready for a big break. But he has to lose for that to happen, and at the moment, despite the fourth-quarter breakdown in Game 1, Kerr remains the coach in either conference most likely to reach the Finals.

It's nice to see Kerr receiving the Coach of the Year support he deserves. Just as Curry has heard political backlash in MVP discussions, so has Kerr, who has dealt with the same "Golden State isn't real" chatter. But when Jackson, now an ESPN-ABC analyst, said during the national telecast Saturday at Oracle Arena that Kerr has his Coach of the Year vote, it was powerfully symbolic in how Kerr has soothed what could have been a poisonous situation. It wasn't long ago when Jackson told NBA.com, referring to his work in coaching the Warriors to a 51-victory level last season: "I think while giving him credit, there's no need to take credit away from the past. You cannot disrespect the caterpillar and rave about the butterfly." But even Jackson, who is on his best behavior as he seeks head-coaching gigs in Orlando and elsewhere, recognizes that Kerr took the foundation and lifted it to a 67-win plateau.

Do not discount the significance of the butterfly respecting the caterpillar every time he's asked. Again, this is where Kerr might want to consider a U.S. Senate seat at some point, and I'm only half-kidding. He was asked Sunday what he thought of Jackson's Coach of the Year endorsement. "Great," he said, with sincerity. "We met before the game [Saturday]. Mark and I were friends when we competed against each other for probably 15 years. We always got along well. We've talked several times this year. I have great respect for the job he did while he was here, which really teed this whole thing up for this season. I told him that. We get along well."

Lacob's problems with the previous regime — Jackson reportedly locked the owner's son out of practice and acted like a control freak — made the transition even more difficult for Kerr. For instance, while Curry was a Jackson fan, Andrew Bogut loathed him. Realizing the potential for a fractured locker room, Kerr literally hit the road by flying to Australia to meet with Bogut and setting up golfing dates with Curry. Then, ever the diplomat, he made certain he wasn't overbearing with a team that had won 51 games. "It was important to come in here and not act like I had all the answers," Kerr said. "They already had a lot of answers. I just wanted to help them get better and continue the evolution."

Yes, but Kerr also was smart enough to spend Lacob's money, as the owner pleaded, to hire top assistants in Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams. And Kerr was shrewd enough to scrap Jackson's isolation-heavy offense and turn the Dubs into a freewheeling machine predicated on defensive stops. And Kerr was daring enough to promote Green and Harrison Barnes as starters at the expense of former All-Stars Andre Iguodala and David Lee while rejuvenating Bogut.

Sixty-eight wins later, the Warriors are the league's best story and most fun attraction, armed with the possible MVP, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year (Green) and Most Improved Player (Klay Thompson). And anyone who thinks this team is too playoff-raw to win the championship, consider Kerr, despite his springtime inexperience as a coach, played in 128 of these hyperintense scrums.

"Just the experiences I had as a player will translate for our guys, depending on the circumstances," Kerr said. "I have a story for any possible scenario. I've pretty much seen everything either as a favorite or underdog. I have lots of stories and memories, and anything I can relate to the guys, I will.

"These guys have guts. They're gunslingers. They're fearless. And that's what it takes in the playoffs."

And about those scabs on Curry's arms?

"Can't answer that question," Steve Kerr said. "Don't want to get fined."

Perfect.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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