Wednesday, when it was announced Stan Van Gundy would be taking over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, it was a temporarily dark moment for the Golden State Warriors. After the much-debated firing of Mark Jackson, a move that had to do more with behind-the-scenes turmoil than the team’s first-round playoff exit, many wondered what was in store for the Dubs’ future. Here was a 51-win team that many felt hadn’t lived up to its full offensive potential under Jackson. On paper, it was the most attractive head coaching vacancy the NBA had to offer.
But it wasn’t panning out that way with the high-profile names being tossed around. In addition to having a disgruntled superstar in Stephen Curry, who fully supported Jackson, there was an immense amount of pressure awaiting the coach who would take over in Golden State. There was also owner Joe Lacob, who clashed with his former head coach for control, something that rang loud and true when Van Gundy chose the Pistons because he would be given control over personnel decisions. If Mark Jackson, beloved by almost all of his players, could be fired after leading an injury-depleted team to 51 wins and a tough seven-game series loss against a more talented Los Angeles Clippers (while playing without their best defensive player, Andrew Bogut, I might add), what would happen to the poor schmuck who took this loaded gig and struggled to make this transition as smooth as possible?
Essentially, that’s what Steve Kerr faces now that he’s officially spurned his old mentor Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks to accept a five-year, $25 million offer to coach the Warriors. Only Wednesday it seemed inevitable that Kerr would accept Jackson’s offer to coach the Knicks, leaving the Warriors in a state of karmic chaos without their top two choices to fill the vacancy. Hell, Wednesday afternoon, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Knicks had sweetened their offer to include a guaranteed fourth year on Kerr’s contract. It was practically a done deal. But then it wasn’t, and here we are.
So what can the Golden State Warriors expect for the 2014-15 season? It’s hard to say. Kerr was second on my list of coaches to replace Mark Jackson, but only because of his strong ties to the game and Warriors management. Anyone who’s listened to Steve Kerr on a TNT broadcast can tell he has a terrific basketball mind. Winning five NBA championships and playing under Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich will have that kind of effect. But outside of having that basketball pedigree, Kerr hasn’t accomplished anything yet. He’s never coached an NBA game in his life and though he served as general manager for the Phoenix Suns for three years, taking over a team expected to contend in the West is another matter entirely.
Given the Warriors roster and the depth of the West, I think Kerr will have a hard time meeting expectations there.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 15, 2014
Steve Kerr chose wisely based on the rosters. With the Warriors, former sharpshooter Kerr will get to groom arguably the best shooter in NBA history and this team was far more competitive in a much tougher conference this season than the Knicks, who only won 37 games and missed the playoffs in a historically weak Eastern Conference. Carmelo Anthony‘s future in New York is up in the air, but the Warriors’ core will remain intact next season. Kerr said he made his decision based on his family, since his home is in San Diego, but there’s no denying even the lure of the Big Apple wasn’t enough to make anyone forget the vast gulf in talent between Golden State and New York.
Kerr’s friendship with Lacob was also a factor, but the pressure is still on this first-year coach to elevate a talented roster to the next level. In New York, expectations would’ve been lower in his first few seasons and Kerr would’ve had more wiggle room because he’d be working with a pretty pitiful roster. The Warriors, on the other hand, are in Win Now mode and probably missed their best option when Van Gundy signed his contract with Detroit. Van Gundy is one of the top five coaches in the league and would’ve been able to keep the Warriors’ top five defense intact while improving the underachieving offense. Kerr is still a question mark with no track record to draw from.
Kerr should probably thank the Zen Master for driving up his stock the past few weeks; there’s been no hotter commodity for every team in need of a new head coach, despite the aforementioned fact that Kerr has yet to coach his first NBA game. With the Suns, Kerr wanted to make a deal for Stephen Curry in 2009. Now he’ll finally get his chance to have Curry at his disposal. David Lee‘s role under a coach who will likely implement elements of the triangle offense and liked his Suns teams to space the floor remains to be seen. But now that Kerr will be the fourth highest paid coach next season, the pressure’s on to keep an elite defense with Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green intact while also upgrading the offense to the powerhouse it should be.
It’s an awful lot to ask of a rookie head coach to come in, take a team on the cusp of being truly dangerous in the West, and groom a bunch of young, developing players into a championship group. Expectations are high and precedents are non-existent. Kerr and Curry. Kerrb Your Enthusiasm. Kerr Down For What. The Kerr-se of Mark Jackson. Any and all of these headlines may apply in the coming months. Only time will tell if the Dubs were better off letting preacher man Jackson motivate this group, but for better or worse, the Golden State Warriors got their Yes Man.
Kerr-b your Enthusiasm. You’re welcome, Warriors bloggers. — Steve McPherson (@steventurous) May 15, 2014