Could the worst coach in the NBA win a title with the Golden State Warriors? It’s a reasonable question and the answer may not be indictment of Steve Kerr’s abilities. In fact, it might be evidence of his greatness,
Mike Brown, no stranger to criticism, has stepped in during Kerr’s illness. The Warriors responded by winning Games 3 and 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers on the road. He is 2-0 at the helm. Luke Walton went 39-4 during Kerr’s prolonged absence last year before the reigning coach of the year returned to go 34-5.
There is no doubt that Kerr is a fantastic coach with the perfect demeanor to juggle the superstars and egos on his bench. But what does it mean that his replacements have won over 91 percent of the games they’ve been asked to coach in? That’s a 74-8 pace over a full season, one game better than the Warriors’ historic 73-win campaign last year.
For one, it means that Kerr has helped build a system so efficient that a below-replacement-level guy can step in and do the job. While some may be worried about Brown and potential problems should the Warriors hit a rough patch, the most likely outcome is another championship regardless of what coach is on the sideline.
It’s a weird thing to give Kerr credit for games he’s not coaching, but both Walton and Brown are inheriting a ready-made team. It’s easy to forget that Kerr inherited a 51-win team and transformed it into a 67-win, championship team the next year. While it’s true he had beautiful colors to paint with, his ability to create a beautiful picture with the right touch is perhaps underappreciated.
Kerr’s DNA is part of the victories Walton and Brown have earned. He’s the main man and has done much of the heavy lifting. He tilled the soil and readied the crop until the fruits of labor were ready to be picked.
The 41-4 mark also means that coaches, on a whole, are overvalued. We ascribe so much of the success or failure to their abilities. Once a narrative — good or bad — clicks in, it’s hard for that to change. The greats tend to be immune from criticism and those who “can’t win the big one” keep that moniker even if it’s too late.
Kerr may be a very good coach, or even a great one. But perhaps the gulf between he and the rest of the pack isn’t as significant as advertised. Other chefs have prepared capably given his ingredients. It doesn’t mean Kerr isn’t a great chef. It means he runs streamlined and effective kitchen where one absence doesn’t throw the entire line out of whack. Even his own.