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LAS VEGAS – He is a first-time coach inheriting the first back-to-back Warriors playoff team in nearly a quarter-century while holding a five-year contract at a salary that raised eyebrows around the NBA.
He also is following a successful coach, Mark Jackson, who was shoved aside largely for reasons unrelated to basketball performance.
So Steve Kerr knew the job was tough when he took it – and knows it will stay tough.
I spent some time with Kerr, 48, the other day to talk about how things have gone and what he has learned in the first two months in his new role.
Q: What were your priorities entering your first month?
A: The very first order of business was to get to know the guys on a personal level. That's why I went to Australia (to visit Andrew Bogut). That's why I had dinner with Andre (Iguodala) and played golf with Steph (Curry) and talked to guys on the phone. You have to connect with your guys emotionally because you can't coach anybody unless you have a relationship with them. It's ongoing. I still haven't spent any time with Klay (Thompson) or David (Lee). I've talked with them. I've texted with them. But I want to be face to face with them. I'll do that.
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The next step was building a staff, which I finally accomplished a couple weeks ago. From there, it was preparing for Summer League, which is in itself preparation for training camp, running practices, learning from Ron (Adams) and Alvin (Gentry) in terms of how to do that, how to prepare, things to say and things not to say. What I love about Ron is he's brutally honest. What I love about Alvin is he's hilarious. They can both tell me things I need to know. And I've learned a ton.
When we're done with this, we're going to build our offense and our style according to our personnel. You might see some of the stuff we're running (in Vegas) but this is basic stuff. You've got to have a million plays. You've got to have ATOs (plays used after timeouts) and late-game 3s. That's one of the reasons I hired Alvin; he's one of the best in the league. But I've got to be able to master those things. I'm going to be drawing up the plays and deciding what we should run. There will be input from the staff, but ultimately that's my decision.
Q: Perception being what it is, does it matter which coach draws up the plays?
A: I think it does. Some guys do it differently, but it's important for me to step in and be in command. I feel good about my ability to be able to do that, but I have a lot of work ahead. I have a couple months to go over with our staff what our best options are and how our guys will fit together. How are we going to put Shaun Livingston on the post? Do we get him there with ball movement? Can we put him on the floor with Steph and Klay and really create some problems for the defense? Those are things we're going to think about. They never leave your brain. But you have to get them into a format, a system and a style that the guys are comfortable with.
Q: Have you had any surprises, become more aware of anything in particular?
A: I've learned that the roles of the staff are going to be critical. My friends in the business have told me that every member of the staff has to know what his job is for every game. What are they charting? Why? What are they looking for? I'm learning about that process. I'm trying to put it all together.
Q: I know Alvin leans to offense, and Ron to defense. What about Luke Walton?
A: Luke is really fun to be around. Humor is great. It helps. One of the reasons I brought Luke in is because I really want to use Andrew Bogut and David Lee in passing situations. Luke really sees the game, from a passing standpoint, as well as anybody I've met. We're going to implement some triangle concepts, and Luke knows the triangle as well as anybody. We're going to run some of that stuff for our bigs and our guards. There'll be dribble handoffs and backdoor steps and cuts. Luke has mastered that playing for the Lakers.
Q: What other tips did you get from veteran coaches?
A: Just to be yourself. You can't emulate anybody. I was told the same thing when I went into TV, and that worked out fine. Guys know if you're BSing them. I'm not a guy that lights into people or into teams. If a guy makes a mistake, he knows it. If I need to get on him, I'll get on him. But I want to do in a way that's respectful and, hopefully, effective.
Q: Do you consider your experiences as a former player when approaching players?
A: Oh yeah. It's hard to be a player. If you ask me what advantage an ex-player has going into coaching, versus someone who did not play in the NBA, it's that you remember how hard it is. The 82 games, the fatigue, the trade talk, contract situations, night-to-night aches and pains. There are days when you feel like you can't go but you've got to go. How do you raise your level of play? Sometimes, the fans are booing you and if you're dumb enough to read Twitter, you're getting crushed on there. Then you have to deal with that. So I know how hard it is and how up-and-down it can be. I think I can help guys not only with my approach but also with my understanding of what they're going through.
Q: Do you consult with players to get a feel for what they like or want?
A: Yes, but I'll probably ask more about what they think about in terms of the team and what it might take to be us successful. But you have to know about each guy. Does a guy respond better if you get in his face? Or does he need a pat on the back? There's a lot of research being done there. You call old coaches. You call old teammates and current teammates. You pick information anywhere you can find it.
Q: What is your plan after Summer League?
A: Well, if we win the championship . . . I'm going to Disneyland (grins). I think they said the winner goes to Disneyland. Or is that just the Super Bowl? But seriously, I have to find a place to live in the Bay Area. And then I'm going to come back to Vegas for USA Basketball for a couple days to watch Steph and Klay. I've got a couple of trips planned to go visit other coaches, kind of seeking ideas. That will be late-July and early August. We'll take a vacation for a week in August – I'm going to need it before the grind – then have a good five or six weeks so Alvin and Ron and Luke and I can sit down and lock in on the identity we want to create and how we're going use to use guys to build this thing.