Warriors head coach Steve Kerr out indefinitely with chronic pain

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr out indefinitely with chronic pain

PORTLAND -- Still suffering with chronic pain after multiple back surgeries nearly two years ago, Warriors coach Steve Kerr will step away from his duties for an indefinite period.

Kerr made the announcement Sunday afternoon, one day after he was unable to attend Game 3 of the first-round playoff series against the Trail Blazers at Moda Center. He conceded the possibility he could miss the rest of the postseason.

“This past week for whatever reason, things got worse,” Kerr said from the team hotel. “My symptoms got worse. And I was not able to coach. The last few days have been difficult.

“With things getting worse, I just made the decision I couldn’t coach. As of now, I’m consulting with my doctors. I’m hoping for some improvement. If I can get some improvement, I’ll get back on the sidelines. But I’m not going to do that unless I know I can help the team.”

Assistant coach Mike Brown, a three-time NBA head coach who guided the Warriors to a 119-113 comeback win in Game 3, will serve as acting head coach during Kerr’s absence and will be on the sideline for Game 4 Monday night.

No matter what happens, Kerr said, he plans to assist in game preparation and remain involved with players and staff for the duration of the postseason.

“At this point in the season, we all have a feel for our team,” Kerr said. “Early in the season, it probably wouldn’t have been that way. It’s great that we’ve had the year together. It’s great that Mike has coached in this league 10 years and has coached in The Finals. He knows what he’s doing. The team is in great hands regardless.”

While spending Game 3 at the team hotel Saturday watching the game with his son, Nick, Kerr pointed out that some of the substitutions he thought should be made were, in fact, made seconds after crossing his mind.

Kerr said he did feel somewhat better Sunday than he did on Friday and Saturday.

Kerr has been coping with severe side effects since the summer of 2015. Though he has said his back was improved by the surgeries, a spinal leak has resulted in frequent headaches and neck pain.

Two days into training camp in September, barely a month after his second surgery in seven weeks, he took an indefinite leave of absence, returning Jan. 22, 2016 and coaching the final 39 regular-season games as well as the postseason.

But after laboring through 2016 training camp and the regular season -- often wearing a pain patch on the back of his neck -- the chronic anguish never went away, being by turns uncomfortable and excruciating. Kerr made it through only the first two games of the postseason.

He clearly was in discomfort during Game 2 Wednesday night at Oracle Arena and felt no better after an off-day Thursday. During his post-practice news conference Friday, before the team flight from Oakland to Portland, Kerr constantly shifted his body and grabbed his head.

Kerr was unable join the team for shootaround Saturday morning, and four hours later the Warriors announced Kerr would not attend Game 3.

“This is not going to be a case where I’m coaching one night and not coaching the next,” Kerr said. “I’m not going to do that to our team, to our staff.

“We’re hoping that over the next week or two, whatever it is, I can sort of make a definitive realization or deduction, or just feel it, that I’m going to do this or not.”

Kerr has tried various pain-killing drugs, as well as medicinal marijuana, in hopes of alleviating his chronic pain. Nothing so far has provided consistent relief, and some medications that have helped were offset by nausea and other side effects.

Kerr is in the third year of a five-year contract signed in May 2014. His 207-39 regular-season record is the best in NBA history by any coach over a three-year span.

Blazers big man Nurkic ruled out for Game 4 vs Warriors

Blazers big man Nurkic ruled out for Game 4 vs Warriors

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

The Warriors hold a 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series with the Blazers after Saturday's 119-113 win. 

For the first time this series, the Warriors went up against Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, who returned from a leg fracture. Nurkic started and played a total of 16:40 in Game 3. 

In his return, the "Bosnian Beast" was a non-factor on offense. He only scored two points, but did grab 11 rebounds. And his return was even shorter than expected. 

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts ruled Nurkic out for Game 4. 

Nurkic averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in 20 games for the Blazers after Portland acquired him in a trade with the Nuggets. 

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.