Just a couple of weeks ago, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a pair of articles about the dynamics of the Golden State Warriors' coaching staff, posting a transcript from an interview with head coach Steve Kerr shortly after Game 4 of the second round and then a second, more formal, article prior to the Western Conference Finals.
Both provided some interesting insight in terms of understanding Kerr's coaching vision in more concrete terms and how he constructed this staff. And with Alvin Gentry leaving to coach the New Orleans Pelicans after the Warriors finish the 2015 NBA Finals, that insight that Kawakami provided is even more useful in thinking about how Kerr might add to his staff this offseason.
We all know Gentry is the offensive coordinator and the Warriors offense has done alright for themselves this season, to put it mildly. But three more subtle things stood out about Gentry from those articles:
- Gentry and Kerr have built up enough of a rapport over the years to the point where the former is both a sounding board and calming presence.
- Gentry was willing to listen to Kerr's vision for the team and use his experience to help mold it into something that the team could bring about.
- Kerr, a rookie coach who has just led a team to the NBA Finals after a 67-15 regular season, has enormous faith in Gentry.
Gentry is not just an offensive mind who's good with x's and o's; he's someone with an outstanding ability to cultivate relationships — with both coaches and players — listen to others with less experience than him, and he is someone who others feel they can depend on.
And we also know that he's willing to get his sleep by any means necessary.
Those are the soft skills of coaching, particularly in the pros, that we rarely see and almost never talk about when considering candidates (unless they're clearly absent). And the photo war with Draymond Green, silly as it was, does tell us something about his ability to cultivate positive bonds with the players and staff without alienating others in the organization. That's certainly not all Gentry — this team had a pre-existing bond of sorts before he came — but given the authority he has been given with this team he deserves some of the credit.
Every team in any sport at all levels should want the kind of dynamic the Warriors have, one that find manages to balance joy and productivity. If Gentry can replicate any part of that dynamic in New Orleans — from the schemes to the team dynamics — while smoothing out any (miniscule) bumps that might have come about due to Kerr's inexperience, Anthony Davis & Co. could be a frightening team for years to come.
The beauty of Steve Kerr adding veteran coaches Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry to the Golden State Warriors' staff was not only that he was humble enough to acknowledge that he could benefit from the experience of others but also that he was secure enough to share the responsibility from people with the credentials to replace him if necessary.
Before Kerr even had a chance to run a practice, it was obvious that he was bringing an entirely different coaching disposition to the franchise, one that was either great in the context of an organization that has eagerly worked to integrate analytics into its daily operations or problematic for those that assumed the front office wanted a "yes man". Kerr clearly embraced this idea of collaborative leadership that owner Joe Lacob has obviously wanted and that meant bringing in the best and the brightest.
And the veteran people that Kerr brought in had to buy in to that way of thinking for this system to generate a top-seeded result.
Of course, the cost of seeking out the best talent to take first commander positions is the potential instability that comes when they earn the opportunity to captain their own ship. Perhaps the New Orleans Pelicans position isn't an offer that Alvin Gentry couldn't refuse but, as an offensive mind who is clearly willing to collaborate with people like Kerr in service of team success, coaching budding perennial MVP candidate Anthony Davis is about as good as it gets.
Yet it's worth noting that losing Gentry is not solely a problem of losing the person at the helm of what has become a beautiful offense — Kerr brought that same vision and he undoubtedly knows others out there in the coaching world who share the same philosophy. The real loss is the comfort level that Gentry has built up with both Kerr and the players, who have greeted new people at the Warriors' revolving door for top assistants for each of the last three years.
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Without criticism — because how can you criticize these results, right? — it's kind of weird to realize that coaching staff stability has absolutely not been a feature of the Warriors ascent from mediocrity to championship favorite. And although this is a point that reasonable people can disagree on, that's actually a credit to the organization that Lacob has built: success is distributed among the group instead of dependent on a single individual.
The structure now in place might just guarantee a certain level of success.
As much as losing the man who oversaw the league's best offense for most of the season is significant, it's hard to be fearful about the resulting uncertainty — this organization has earned the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to make the right personnel decisions to ensure its future growth. There's no reason to assume they won't hit the right notes and attract a top tier talent once again. Gentry will be hard to replace with his combination of history with Kerr, ability to build relationships, and basketball experience but he has imparted some of that to the remaining coaches and we have to respect the collective judgment of the system to find the right replacement at this point.
And that's as new for Warriors fans as being in the NBA Finals — we're used to being able to count on the organization making sub-optimal, if not the worst, choice from a set of options. Now we're seeing an organization that has consistently made the right decision and can be expected to do so again.
For more on the Warriors' coaching change, check out our Alvin Gentry storystream.