CHICAGO — The first few weeks of the Warriors’ season were filled with injuries and defeats, and head coach Steve Kerr will be pushed into something he’s only experienced once in his two-plus decades in the league: A losing record.
In 23 seasons as a player, general manager and head coach, the only losing season Kerr has had came when he was a backup guard with the 1990-91 Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, the 5-19 Warriors are poised to miss the playoffs for the first time in Kerr’s five-year coaching tenure.
This season, Kerr spends more time teaching than managing super-star egos, and more time pacing the sideline than sitting on the bench. Talk of moral victories has replaced the high-wire drama of year’s past.
The Warriors aren’t any good, but that doesn’t matter. They know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, when All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return healthy next season. Kerr’s challenge is to get from Point A to Point B.
Q: Has it been especially challenging to keep the team motivated during this stretch?
“Not so much motivated, but just keeping their spirits up. And maybe we’re talking about the same thing. Just, it gets old, losing. You walk into that locker room after almost every game and everybody’s disappointed.
“But, you got to wake up the next day and keep going and keep improving, and you do so with the thought that better times are ahead. So, it’s our job as a coaching staff to remind them of that and to keep their eyes focused on their job. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Q: For you, have you leaned on any resources to get through this season? Mentors or books, or anything?
“The guys I’ve leaned on the most are (assistant coaches) Mike Brown and Ron Adams, because they’ve both been through seasons like this, and they both have great advice and great analogies that have been helpful for me.
“Other than that, I think our overall approach to coaching, and my overall philosophy on coaching, allows for us to continue to do our work and keep perspective. We’ve talked about perspective the last five years. Whether we’ve been good or bad, we’ve always tried to keep things in perspective.
“We have great jobs, among the luckiest people on earth. In times of losing games, it’s important to remember how fortunate we are. We try to reflect that in our coaching, as a staff, and our daily approach, and the life that we lead together. That involves humor, and that involves family, and dinners, and just trying to create as comfortable and interesting an environment as you can.
“And it still becomes very productive. Even if you’re losing games, you’re still learning a lot. If you’re enjoying the process, that’s important.”
Q: It seems like you’re enjoying the process, but at what point did you have to shift your expectations of what this season was going to be? Was it when Steph went down, or was it even before then?
“It was even before that. I mean, I don’t think the general public really saw what was happening until Steph’s injury. But, where we were, as a team, before Steph’s injury, we were going to take a huge drop just based on losing Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston.
“You know, I would see in preseason people picking us to go to the finals. I’m like, you realize those four names I just mentioned — arguably the best player in the league, two unbelievable veteran players who provide our backbone, our culture, those guys both gone, and then Klay Thompson, one of the best two-way guys in the league and one of the very best shooters ever in the game — we lost all those guys.
“So, it was sort of comical for me to hear people preseason talking about our team as a contender, because we weren’t anything close to a contender.
“I think it took Steph’s injury for people to realize how much we lost. But it was sort of mind boggling anyone could expect us to lose that kind of fire power and wherewithal, and knowledge and wisdom, and talent, and then everyone just expect ‘Oh, they’re the Warriors, they’re just going to be good.’ I could feel it in training camp.”
Q: Even people saying ‘Well, they’re the Warriors,’ that reflects well on what you guys have built here.
“I think it’s five years of success, and it’s five years of our team being really good and, obviously, the combination of Steph and Draymond (Green) has been one of the best one-two punches in the league for five years. I think there’s a lot of respect for those two guys.
“But, this game is about five people on the floor, and it’s about two-way competence. You have to be a good defensive team to be good in this league. We’re working on that, but we’re really, really, really young, and we’re having to teach every detail, every day and there’s a lot of growing pains.”
Q: Did you find with Team USA, having to coach a new mix of players who have never played like that together, did that help at all with the turnover you faced this year?
Kerr was the lead assistant on Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff for Team USA for the FIBA World Cup this summer.
“I think it helped. Just learning for Pop — I played for him for four years, but to coach with him is a totally different deal. To see him behind the scenes, to see him operate, it was really helpful for me. I learned a lot and definitely implemented some of the things I learned with Team USA in what I’m doing now.”
Q: Do the longer practices you’re running now remind you of any you had as a player?
“Yeah. Early in my career, NBA teams practiced a lot harder than late in my career. Teams probably got smarter with rest and recovery so, at the end of my career, coaches weren’t nearly as demanding. On the other hand, early in my career, teams were better prepared because of the amount of work we did.
“This feels more like a team that I played on in Chicago, for example, when we’re going over details of every play under Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. It’s fun. I enjoy teaching the young guys, and it’s fun to see them grow and see them learn. It’s also a reminder of how far we have to go.”
Q: What’s been the most frustrating part of the season so far?
Q: Any specific loss?
“The ones when we had a chance at the end. The Charlotte game at home was really frustrating, because I didn’t feel like I handled the game well at the end. Didn’t feel like I helped our team out enough to help them win. So that was frustrating.
“There have been a couple of other close losses that were frustrating. Honestly, the last two games, in Atlanta and in Charlotte, those two games were the most disappointing of the season, because it just felt like the first time we let go of the rope, as the expression goes. I didn’t like our energy. I felt like we let our guard down. So, I’m anxious to see how we play tonight, because that can’t become the norm.”
The Warriors defeated the Bulls Friday, 100-98, to improve to a 5-19 record for the season.
Q: How does that effect you when you’re frustrated like that? Is there anything you can do to help, as far as keeping that perspective you were talking about earlier?
“Just drink heavily. Just kidding. You just move on. You get a good night’s sleep, you wake up, and you start over again. You enjoy your family, you have a good meal, you get a good work-out, and just keep living your life. You know, you try to do your best.”