OAKLAND -– Steve Kerr’s decision to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Warriors is a serious matter, but more so for the coach than for the team.
The Warriors, given their roster, their familiarity with Kerr’s system and their collective intellect, should not be hurt by Luke Walton serving as interim head coach. They should benefit from Kerr’s inclusive, democratic management style.
“Steve obviously couldn’t see this coming,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “But the amount of responsibility that he gave all of us individually and as part of the decision-making . . .
“If he was one of those head coaches or leaders that wanted to do everything himself, we’d be sitting around screwed right now because we wouldn’t know what to do.”
The Warriors might even be OK if Kerr is not available for opening night on Oct. 27.
Kerr, 50, is facing more a delicate situation. He needs time to recover from two back surgeries undergone over the summer, the second of which was necessary after complications from the first. Kerr gritted his teeth through last postseason, fighting through the pain, knowing he’d be on the surgeon’s table shortly afterward.
Back surgery is never minor. It’s almost always a result last-resort dilemma.
Kerr hopes to recover and, for now, there is every reason to believe he will.
There is good reason to believe, however, that a veteran coach, such as Alvin Gentry, would come in handy for the Warriors. Hiring Gentry was Kerr’s key move upon becoming head coach of the Warriors in 19 months ago. Kerr had never been a coach, on any level, and Gentry had been coaching in NBA circles for a quarter century. He was a three-time head coach, most recently in Phoenix was Kerr was the general manager of the Suns late last decade.
But Gentry, after one triumphant season as associate head coach to Kerr, departed in June to become head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s not an option.
So the job goes to Walton, whose coaching resume is as thin as an astronaut’s margin for error. He had never coached, on any level, until Kerr hired him in May 2014 to work alongside Gentry and fellow veteran coach Ron Adams.
Walton is, however, a quick study. It helps that he grew up in a basketball family; his dad, Bill, is one of the 10 greatest college players ever and is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Luke was a solid college player who became a solid pro – not so much because he was superbly talented but because he has a great mind for the game.
That’s why, upon Gentry’s departure, Kerr promoted Walton. The players like Walton, yes, but they also listen to him. There is respect for his thoughts and for the fact that he spent 10 seasons in the NBA and earned two championship rings as a member of the Lakers only a few years ago.
Kerr assigned Walton, 35, to coach the Warriors Summer League team in Las Vegas. It was the first time Walton had presided over a bench during a game.
“Summer League was a huge help for this, not only for me but the rest of the staff,” Walton said. “Besides Ron, we’ve got a pretty young staff. In Summer League we were in charge of setting up all the practices, running everything. I know it gave me a lot of confidence for what we’re doing now.”
Forward Draymond Green, whose hoops IQ is as high as any player in the NBA, describes Walton as having a “brilliant basketball mind.”
General manager Bob Myers echoed that sentiment.
“Luke is one of these people that was born with an innate understanding of the game of basketball,” Myers said. “He’s respected. He’s a world champion in his own right as a player. He was great on the staff last year. He’s got a good way about him. He’s a great communicator, grew up around the NBA his whole life.
“So we’re confident that in Steve’s absence, he’ll step up and do a wonderful job for as long as that may be.”
The Warriors would rather Kerr return sooner than later. But, at least for the next few weeks, they should survive fine without him. He needs more help than they do.