Big O Tires

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 4 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Steve Kerr’s physical absence from the stage in the NBA Playoffs means a lot of things. It all depends on what you want from this development.

If you think the Warriors should win anyway, you will decide it will mean something but not a lot. If you think they should lose, it is a catastrophe, and when layered with Kevin Durant’s injury, it is a three-story catastrophe with a massive entry hall, a huge spiral staircase, a vast backyard with an Olympic pool and a shooting range.

But here are two things it means for sure.

One, nobody will be able to say they were lucky if they win, which for some reason still bothers people around here, as though luck is some sort of shame-inducing insult to be avoided.

And two, they will not accept your pity if they lose, least of all Kerr. Kerr is much better at showing anger than he is acknowledging pity, and you saw plenty of the former at his presser Sunday.

In an attempt to both granularize and overthink what has been pretty boilerplate playoff series so far, many folks have gone to Mike Brown, Kerr’s new Luke Walton, to declare an Achilles heel.

Except that (a) players determine success in the NBA, and only the very worst coaches impede talent from achieving its true level. Mike Brown is not among those coaches, and those who think he is are fools.

Except that (b) Kerr will be around for planning sessions, and there will be the rest of the coaching staff at Brown’s side so that continuity will not be an issue unless Brown’s voice is so alien that a group of veteran players who have won one title and nearly won a second will somehow lose their way.

The danger here is that we might be minimizing his absence, when in fact we don’t have the slightest idea how it will affect the Warriors. Even with the 43 games Walton coached in Kerr’s absence after this first back reaction, when people feared the team would fall off the earth, the Warriors played more than half those games against non-playoff teams, while playoff games are almost by necessity are high-leverage situations piled atop each other in a gigantic heap.

It’s not comparing cats and dogs, but it is comparing terriers and rottweilers. In short, this could be a lot tougher than we think it is. We have no idea, because there is no real metric for this, only a lot of half-educated guesswork.

You know, what we do best.

Even Five-Thirty-Eight.com, The Place Where Twos And Fours Go To Find Love, took the Warriors’ two wins last week, factored in Kerr’s absence and decided that the Warriors are now 67 percent favorites to win the title, up from 63 percent.

But if the Warriors cannot navigate the postseason without Kerr, then they’ll have failed, pure and simple. Context is all well and good, and we believe in context with all our might, but one of the contexts of this Warrior team is that no excuses will be accepted. It is the price they pay for being a 2-to-1 favorite from the second they signed Durant. After all, life is as windy as it is lonely at the top.

Kerr will return when he can, and it is hoped that he won’t do it until he knows he can, rather than thinks he can or hopes he can. But as it affects the Warriors . . . well, the nation has spoken.

No alibis. No luck. Until there is new evidence, they do, or they do not. Period.

Confident in what he's built, Kerr should prioritize health over coaching

Confident in what he's built, Kerr should prioritize health over coaching

Steve Kerr has always tried to will his vicious post-surgical back into obedience, to the point of showing discomfort even with well-wishing inquiries.

And he has failed. Damned bodies, always acting out.

He wanted the nick in his spinal cord and the fluid it released to self-correct, and though nobody is sure that this is the specific cause of his absence from the remainder of the Golden State-Portland, it has been a persistent issue for the last 20-plus months.

And now it, or a related issue, may jeopardize his ability to guide the Warriors to whatever their playoff destiny is.

That he chose to surrender to the logic of pain gives us all a pretty clear indication of how poorly he truly feels. Behind his jocular exterior and the perspective that comes with it lies a series of shields that forces him to be less forgiving about himself than others. He was going to defy his actual spine by showing how mighty his metaphorical backbone is, and as if usually the case, actuality trumps metaphor.

It seems unfair, but as Kerr will grudgingly admit, fair has nothing to do with it. Fair would be a successful surgery with no lingering side effects. Fair would be the ability to do his job pain-free. Fair would be tackling the evident difficulties of meeting the expectations of the entire basketball-playing world with a clear, undistracted mind.

So there’s your fair, in a fetid heap by the hamper.

As for his quality of life, it can be reasonably assumed that he would not jeopardize that just for a second ring. He is hyper-competitive, but he isn’t reckless, or worse, nuts. That’s his call for as long as he owns his back. If he doesn’t coach again in these playoffs, then he doesn’t coach again in these playoffs, and the worst thing that happens is that we argue pointlessly about whether he gets credit for the games they play between now and the end of their season, whenever that is.

And while it seems unduly callous, to talk about how long he’ll be out or what his version of “100 percent” is or how much coaching he will do from his office, or his home, it is where this part of the conversation must ultimately go.

Mike Brown is a qualified head coach whose only real shortcoming as it matters here is his different voice in the room. To the minimal extent that this could be disruptive, there is still Ron Adams and Bruce Fraser and Jarron Collins, not to mention Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston . . . oh, and Kevin Durant. The Warriors don’t coach themselves, but they have a healthy idea of what to do, how to do it, and how to create the conditions under which those things get done.

But in a postseason that has been almost notorious for the number of players who can’t, well, play, Kerr’s absence will stand out. The Warriors will be different as a result – certainly not better, probably not materially worse, but different. Every assumption about a hand ride through the playoffs is now so much wadded-up paper, or if you must, tablet without connectivity.

And maybe that’s the real casualty here. If Kerr misses only a couple of games, then it didn’t matter that much. If he can’t come back, it will. But the NBA playoffs are as casualty-strewn in their way as the Stanley Cup playoffs are in theirs, and if nothing else, it may cause us all to assume nothing about anything.

And that includes Steve Kerr. Here’s hoping he doesn’t rush back to fix a problem that doesn’t yet exist. Here’s hoping his view goes beyond mid-June. Here’s hoping he resists the impulse to coach this team with several vertebrae tied behind his front.

As unfair as all this might be (there we go again, doing that fair stuff), he sat out once, and his team thrived because of the atmosphere he had already created. He should be confident in what he’s built, and if he can be return for the start of the next series, it should be because he is ready to, not because he feels compelled.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.