Tim Kawakami, Mercury News (http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2015/05/18/inside-the-warriors-dynamics-steve-kerrs-bunch-of-brainstorming-laughing-diverse-and-formidable-assistant-coaches/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=NBA%20National%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=GMIB%205%2F20%2F2015)
Sometimes, probably most times, Steve Kerr’s Warriors coaching staff looks and acts like a lively bunch of high achieving, highly diverse camp counselors.
That’s exactly the way Kerr assembled his group of five formidable assistants, and that was how they were all splayed out on the Warriors’ practice court a few weeks ago.
There was veteran Ron Adams twisting on the floor into yoga positions, long-time Kerr pal Bruce Fraser feeding passes to Stephen Curry, and rookie assistants Luke Walton and Jarron Collins yelping and thrashing with a few Warriors bench players in a three-on-three game.
Later, top aide Alvin Gentry wandered out to pore over some video with Festus Ezeli as Kerr started spilling into yoga positions himself.
Before that, Kerr looked around, beamed, and pointed out this was the exact realization of his plan when he built his staff last summer.
“I wanted experience on either side of me,” Kerr said, referring to Gentry and Adams, before gesturing to the three-on-three game.
“And then I wanted this, right here, what you’re seeing. I wanted guys like Luke or Jarron who had just finished playing, who could get out on the floor and be more physical with the players…
“For them to be able to go to one of our players and say, ‘When I guarded Dwight Howard, this is how I approached it.’ You need some hands-on experience from guys who have actually done it.”
Well, it turns out the Warriors are actually playing Dwight Howard and Houston now in the Western Conference finals, starting with Game 1 on Tuesday, after the Warriors’ slug-fest six-game victory over Memphis.
Which leads us to the other manifestation of Kerr’s staff—something that can only happen organically, and under extreme pressure.
Down 2-1 against the Grizzlies, with Game 4 coming up in Memphis, Kerr’s staff hunkered down in a hotel meeting room and evolved into something close to an adrenaline-fueled team of brilliant attorneys brainstorming before the biggest day of a murder trial.
That was Kerr’s plan, too, from the outset–everybody from the video assistants to Kerr to the players has had a voice this entire season.
“Steve is one of those guys–he’s secure in his own skin,” Adams said. “He’s a bright guy; he’s had a wealth of basketball experience. OK, so he’s learning the coaching thing this year and I would say he’s learned it at a high rate and very well.
“He’s a really good leader of our team. But he wants input.”
In the Memphis series, there was one key strategic moment, when the Warriors decided in Game 4 to switch center Andrew Bogut onto Memphis guard Tony Allen and skinny small forward Harrison Barnes onto burly Grizzly power forward Zach Randolph.
It helped turn the series and the Warriors swept the final three games.
“That was Ron,” Collins said, appreciatively. “Ron actually mentioned that on the plane going down to Memphis (before Game 3), as an idea, putting Bogues on Tony Allen.
“Obviously we didn’t do it until Game 4, but as soon as he mentioned it, I thought it was fascinating, because I was trying to think in my mind offensively how would they combat that and it was no easy answer.”
Clearly, Adams on the defensive side and Gentry on the offensive side are the two staff stalwarts—and they are two of the highest-paid assistants in the league.
“Alvin sees it from an offensive perspective; Ron sees everything from a defensive perspective,” Kerr said. “I believe Ron would like to win a game 4-2. And I don’t think Alvin would mind winning 138-130.”
The sessions are spirited, especially when the season is on the line.
But all of the principals say there are no major disagreements, just debate and questions and more debate.
As Collins said, if you have a point, you have to be able to defend it.
“I think Alvin is key to this,” Adams said. “Alvin has a great wealth of experience, really a fine offensive coach.
“But he’s always very respectful of Steve and Steve’s ideas. I think that has really made that work.”
Even before he was officially hired by the Warriors a year ago, Kerr was thinking about the proper mix and meshing of personalities.
The calm, sardonic Gentry was the coach in Phoenix when Kerr was the general manager; Collins was a player there; Kerr knows Walton from their twin Arizona backgrounds; Kerr knew many basketball people who swore by the professorial, demanding Adams.
“I wanted to be around people who I enjoyed every day,” Kerr said. “These guys are all fantastic; they all have a different life perspective, different background. They all are fun to be around and very funny.”
Beyond Gentry, who, as a former NBA head coach (and a leading candidate to get another top job this summer), serves as Kerr’s main sounding board, and Adams, the others have carved out roles.
* Walton tends to be involved more on the offensive side and is in the timeout huddles with Kerr and Gentry before Kerr speaks
to the team.
Walton and Adams also have developed a wry by-play, mostly as seatmates on long plane rides.
“Luke, he’s my German Shepherd puppy,” Adams said. “He and I just hit it off really well. He knows I’m kind of nutty and he’s kind of nutty.”
* Collins is the studious Stanford product who happens to have drawn the main scouting responsibilities for New Orleans in the first round and now Houston. (Walton had the scout for Memphis last round.)
“He hasn’t been removed from playing that many years,” Gentry said of Collins. “I kid him about that Stanford education, that elitist education they’ve had. (Smiles.)
“But the players really respect him because he’s really conscientious; he’s going to do a scouting report, he goes beyond the call of duty, which tells me he’s really dedicated.”
* Fraser, one of Kerr’s best friends, works with Curry and Klay Thompson, among others, and acts an emotional barometer for the team.
“I think I may be more on the philosophical side, how our guys are feeling, what the message of the team is, what the mood, what the other team did to us,” Fraser said.
The Warriors players—after some bumpy times with Jackson’s staff last season—have embraced the new level of cohesion.
The 67-victory regular season, the MVP for Stephen Curry, and the journey through two rounds of the playoffs… well, that helps solidify everything.
“I feel like they really studied each guy’s personality when they brought them in,” Bogut said. “Because they’re all great guys, first and foremost, but they’re also a little bit different.
“You never want to have a coaching staff that’s all trying to be like each other, you know what I mean? It becomes like a PTA meeting at a high school.”
No, the Warriors staff isn’t a PTA meeting. It’s competitive, it’s a group of jokesters, and it’s a crackling strategic hothouse, all in one, all at once, all just the way Kerr hoped and planned.