As recently as yesterday, news broke that Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr is experiencing less pain compared to that which made him miss games 3 and 4 of the Warriors’ first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
With Kerr’s personal health on everyone’s mind, his progress is encouraging. However for players, the return of their head coach to the sideline is still uncertain. For most teams, losing such a prominent figure of the organization during the playoffs would be a major setback. But the bedrock of the Golden State Warriors is something to behold.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a group like this,” assistant coach Mike Brown told reporters after the Warriors’ game 4 win in Portland. “Steve has done a fantastic job of laying the foundation here on both sides of the floor, culturally, and our guys appreciate the ownership that they have.”
The Warriors have had their fair share of experience of playing without their head coach, most notably last season when then assistant coach Luke Walton guided Golden State to a 39-4 start as Kerr recovered from off-season back surgery.
“We’ve been through it before, so we have that experience,” forward Andre Iguodala told ESPN radio. “We do a good job of holding each other accountable.”
Kerr’s return to the Warriors’ bench would be significant for a number of reasons, most importantly that his health is in a place that allows him to withstand the strenuous duties of coaching a professional basketball team.
But as Mike Brown alluded to in his postgame comments, Kerr has done a wonderful job of building a foundation for the team that is ultimately controlled by the players on the court. According to Iguodala, Kerr accorded his players power to make their own calls at times.
“We have nights where we say you know, we’re going to coach ourselves tonight. See if we can get through the first quarter, the first few minutes. We’ll call our own sets, call our own plays,” Iguodala told ESPN radio. “You know if we need to switch something up, we’ll do that. We’ve got a good veteran group and we’ve been deep, deep into the playoffs the last couple of years so it’s time for us to show that experience.”
It seems that Kerr’s biggest impact may not be during the actual game itself but rather throughout the week in the form of game preparation, film study and mentoring, which even in his current condition he is still capable of doing.
Stephen Curry mentioned to reporters after the Warriors closeout victory in the first round that Kerr told the team that this is just one step in their journey and to maintain the perspective of not only what the team has accomplished thus far, but also what remains on the road ahead.
“They just want to do it the right way, no matter who is on the floor,” said Brown of the Warriors. “This team is just on a different level. They can be loose, they can crack jokes before the game. They can crack jokes during shootaround, with one another, about one another, and then go out and do that.”
‘That’ was a reference to the 25 point game 4 win on the road for Golden State which resulted in a first round sweep of Portland. “We can pretty much fight through anything,” Draymond Green told ESPN’s Neil Everett.
And fight on the Warriors will. Kerr’s personal strength to fight through his own personal pain is personified by his team’s toughness on the court. If any team can withstand losing their head coach and not skip a beat (outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose coach wears an actual jersey and plays), it’s the Golden State Warriors.
"Steve sets such a solid foundation that it can withstand his stepping away in the interim," Warriors’ GM Bob Myers told the Associated Press. "It's a testament to his leadership and his culture that he never made it about him. He made it about the players and the rest of the staff and set that template. And that's what makes it sustainable, really.
"When you build a culture around one person, you risk more, I think. But when you share responsibility, when you share blame, you share credit, you share all of it, one person can step away and hopefully return and you can keep going."