It’s been said that one man can make a world of difference. In the first few weeks of the 2014-2015 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors might just be able to say that the one man is their new coach, Steve Kerr. After replacing the player-friendly Mark Jackson as mentor, the Warriors currently stand with a 19-2 win-loss record and are in the middle of a league-best 14-game winning streak. And the main difference between last year’s squad that made the playoffs and this year’s iteration is Kerr.
Highs and lows with Jackson
When Jackson took over the Warriors, he brought to Oakland the toughness that he was known for as a player for the Knicks, Pacers, Clippers, and Raptors. The son of a preacher was loved by his players for his motivational skills and he helped mold the backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into the deadly combo that would be known as “the Splash Brothers.”
However, Jackson was also set in his ways and bristled when there was any perceived interference with the way he ran his team. Last season, the 1987 NBA Rookie of the Year reassigned assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the D-League for what he termed “a difference in philosophies.” The Warriors also fired Darren Erman in April for reportedly recording discussions during coaches’ meetings and conversations between players and coaches without their knowledge.
Despite taking Golden State to back-to-back playoff berths and receiving support from players like Curry and Thompson, Jackson was fired by team owner Joe Lacob after they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers. The team aggressively went after Kerr, the former Phoenix Suns general manager who had spent the last few seasons in the broadcast booth.
Going after Kerr
Kerr was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect in the coaching ranks. Always viewed as someone with a high basketball IQ, the years in charge of the Suns and the insights he shared while covering games made Kerr a target of both the Warriors and his former coach and new New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. Rather than join a rebuilding team with high salaried-players and no draft picks in coming seasons, Kerr rejected Jackson to come to the Bay Area.
No one could really blame Kerr for his choice though because Golden State had already been getting league-wide attention for their play, particularly for the young Curry. Former Charlotte Hornet star Dell Curry’s first-born has seen his value grow by leaps and bounds since Jackson entrusted him with the point guard duties, and Steph’s long-range shooting has already become a can’t miss highlight waiting to happen.
And so, despite their love for the departed Jackson, these Warriors acclimated themselves with a five-time NBA Champion who had played with the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and even a young Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando. The results so far have been pretty tantalizing, though a bit misleading.
During this streak, Golden State has only played four teams with winning records at the time: the Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls, and Houston Rockets. The Heat lost without Dwyane Wade while the Rockets didn’t have Dwight Howard when they clashed. Still, it’s not the team’s fault that the schedule ended up this way or that the injuries befell those players.
The Warriors are currently the only NBA team in the top six in both offense and defense, third in field goal percentage, third in rebounding, and first in field goal percentage allowed. Even though power forward David Lee has only played in one game this season due to a hamstring injury, Kerr has gotten improved play from third year players Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.
Good deputies, critical Worm
Former overall number one pick Andrew Bogut, Mareese Speights, and the athletic Andre Iguodala have been backstopping the defense thanks to the coaching of assistant coach Ron Adams, who previously served under Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Meanwhile, Kerr also got veteran former NBA coach Alvin Gentry to take care of the offense as he didn’t copy the Jackson/Fisher model of running the Triangle Offense.
This hiring of good assistant coaches should be seen as great moves by Kerr and Lacob, but they’ve also drawn the ire of the strangest of people: Kerr’s former teammate, Dennis Rodman. Never shy to express his opinion, “The Worm” didn’t sound impressed with Kerr’s current streak, saying, “He’s just having a good time sitting there. Got into a system where you can win. Just have a bunch of good assistants.” Though denying he has any beef with his fellow former Bull, Rodman sounds like he’s more impressed with Gentry and Adams than the head coach.
To say that 14 straight wins is impressive might be an understatement, but the Warriors must know that they haven’t done anything yet. This franchise won its only NBA Championship in 1975 when Rick Barry was the superstar, and it’s largely been a laughing stock for the past four decades. Still, it’s a good start for Steve Kerr’s coaching career. Time will tell if, at the end of this season, it will translate into homecourt advantage throughout the Playoffs or if he’ll end up just like his predecessor in the broadcast booth.