Warriors land the great unknown in Steve Kerr

Warriors land the great unknown in Steve Kerr
May 14, 2014, 5:45 pm
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The Warriors got their new coach, the one they wanted, the one the Knicks knew they could get and didn’t. But what did they really get here?
Ray Ratto

Unexpected amazingness has washed upon the happy shores of our ancestral land Golden State. Steve Kerr has rejected the New York Knickerbockers to tackle the difficult problem of telling Joe Lacob what he doesn’t know about getting a team to the Western Conference Final.

Which ought to be interesting, since Kerr isn’t sure how to do it either, having never been a head coach himself.

[RELATED: Report: Steve Kerr chooses Warriors over Knicks]

But that’s part of the new fun in Oakland. The Warriors got their new coach, the one they wanted, the one the Knicks knew they could get and didn’t. Hurray for them. Joe Lacob is a better salesman than Jimmy Dolan, which, if you think about it, is a fairly low bar to clear.

But what, other than Steve Kerr, did they really get here?

The Warriors are already a fairly self-contained operation. They are a defense-first team as molded by the defrocked former coach, Mark Jackson. They are a jump-shot first team, as dictated by their best offensive players, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They are a team with depth problems, and a first round draft pick in Harrison Barnes who, other than a few playoff games a full year ago, has not found his footing in the NBA.

So what can Kerr do to take a 51-win team and make it a 58-win team, and a division winner, and conference final candidate, or more? And as far as that goes, how much flexibility will be granted by the hands-y front office to put his own stamps on a team that has already been largely formed?

That’s the weird part of this. The Warrior job is a great job because most of the pieces are in place, but it is also a constrictive one because most of the pieces are in place. They cannot become a post-up team, or an isolation team (even Curry would suffer under those conditions), or a full-out fast break team (because the defense would go immediately to hell).

And it is not easy to immediate translate this group into Kerr’s favored triangle offense because it is not easy to learn and forces players out of their comfort zones for extended periods while they learn the new demands of the positions they thought they knew.

In short, this is a triumph for Lacob and general manager Bob Myers and consigliere Jerry West. It is splashy, it is out of the box (though out of the same box from which Jackson came).

But we have to wait to see if it is a triumph for the Warriors.

The unknown, you see, is a scary place, and just because Jackson turned this dreadnought around in a little more than a year doesn’t mean Kerr can. Indeed, most broadcasters-turned-first-time coaches do not fare quite so well at this, in part because they usually end up with bad teams to turn into good ones.

Kerr’s five-year deal, with $25 million, is probably longer than the Warriors would have liked, but Kerr had leverage. And a man with leverage wants to keep it and see where else it applies once the contract is dry and filed. If Kerr is a man of any backbone (and he damned well better have), he will push back at the front office on occasion to make sure he has enough room to operate.

But he was given everything Jackson was not – with the as-yet-unrevealed caveat being that we don’t know how much control he will have to hire and assemble his staff, which Jackson had in Year Three and mishandled. Those who think Jackson got jobbed will not be happy about this, and suggest sinister motives. And maybe that will be true to an extent.

But Lacob is partial to whom and what he is partial to, and Kerr got the job in part because he and Lacob have a pre-existing relationship. This will be important to remember as time goes on, when Kerr has to assert himself as a coach with a five-year deal must.

So let the Bizarro World fun begin. Today, the Warriors out-talked the Knicks, and Lacob bested Dolan, and West/Myers beat Phil Jackson. Tomorrow, we start to learn how this monumentally momentary victory is actually going to play out.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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