It feels like an inevitability now, an appointment to keep, a June date to tap into your phone: WARRIORS CHAMPIONSHIP PARADE. Barring some convergence of an alien invasion, a natural disaster and Beyonce’s halftime heels, the thought of any team beating them in the postseason is folly. Simply, Steph Curry and The Vortex are playing a game that no one else seems capable of grasping or comprehending, much less emulating or overcoming.
If there are obstacles, they will come off the court. Such as in the coaching chair of Steve Kerr, who, if you didn’t notice two nights ago in Oracle Arena, was leaning forward in his seat, looking at the floor beneath him and squeezing the skin between his eyes.
He’s still experiencing headaches, a remaining symptom of the spinal-fluid leakage that caused him to miss the season’s first 43 games. And while he coached Wednesday night in a 112-104 victory over the Suns, the concern is that he’ll have more post-game episodes such as the one the previous night. He spoke to the media for only two minutes after the victory over Houston, acknowledged he wasn’t feeling well, then was observed leaning against a wall outside the coaches’ office.
He is not 100 percent, he said.
And he might have to sit out more games, he said.
“I still have symptoms from everything I’ve been dealing with, so I wish everything was clear and gone away, but it’s not, so at times I have to deal with stuff,” Kerr told reporters. “I don’t want to go into detail with all this stuff, but there’s a lot to it in terms of my protocol that I’m going through. The All-Star break will give me a chance to get through some of that, too.”
The one team equipped to handle more coaching absences would be the Warriors, who merely won 24 straight to open the season with interim coach Luke Walton and have won 11 straight heading into the break. But if the players were able to joke after Kerr broke a clipboard during a recent game in New York, the episode suggested that his inner fire may not co-exist comfortably with the existing symptoms. Kerr won’t travel to Toronto for All-Star Game festivities this weekend and will benefit from a week off.
Said general manager Bob Myers, in an appearance on 95.7 The Game: “He’s tired. So I just said, ‘Take it day by day. Don’t try to burn yourself out now.’ The good thing about Steve is, he’s self-aware to the point where he knows.”
So anyone who thought the Kerr health watch was past tense is sadly mistaken. It will be accompanied by more national media buzz involving Walton, who appears destined to join his former coach, Phil Jackson, either in New York or Los Angeles. A report Wednesday has Jackson leaving the Knicks this summer and rejoining his fiancee, Jeanie Buss, atop the basketball operation of the Lakers. That would require her to fire her inept brother, Jim, which will excite Southern California more than even the disappearance of El Niño and coming of the NFL Rams. Walton would be Jackson’s coach in that scenario. If he chose to stay in New York, Walton would be Jackson’s coach in that scenario. Or so goes the rampant speculation.
Neither move would happen until next season. Problem is, Walton will be hearing about it constantly, possibly as he’s moving back into Kerr’s seat. It becomes a distraction that the Warriors don’t want, even as the most unstoppable ongoing force in American sports.
Three points are worth more than two points, as kids are taught in preschool, and while opponents can do the math, they can’t match the blur. They’re stuck in a bygone era, filled with too many players who grew up watching SportsCenter and aspiring to dunk while Curry and Klay Thompson were firing jumpshots in driveways and gyms. In their everyday course the next four months, without even thinking about historical milestones, the Warriors are capable of winning 70 to 73 games in the regular season and sweeping two or three series in the playoffs. They are such a mortal lock these days, death and taxes are said to be nervous.
And if Magic Johnson wants to live in his wayback machine and talk trash — “We’d blow them out. They’re too small for us. Too many mismatches. They wouldn’t want to see us,” he declared this week on an ESPN show — it should be noted that a moment later, he already was hedging. “They would probably beat us with these rules. We would blow them out with our rules,” said Johnson, referring to defensive hand-checking and physical play that isn’t allowed in today’s NBA.
The victory in Phoenix made them 48-4 — the best record heading into an All-Star break in league history. The question now, whether Kerr or Walton is coaching on a particular night, is whether they use the final 30 games as preparation for the playoffs or a run at history. You know Kerr’s answer. While he enjoyed a 72-10 season as a member of the 20-years-ago Jordan Bulls, it meant nothing without a championship. He’ll be periodically resting Curry and others, and if the Warriors still continue to win and are approaching 73-9, sure, they’ll go for it in the natural process.
“We didn’t say much about it all year. Late in the season, the last 20 games, we talked about it,” Kerr said of the Bulls. “I just know how fragile it is, how quickly that thing can vanish. I’m not concerned about it. Our goal is to win the championship. However we get there, it doesn’t matter what the record is. Having said that, it’s fun to win, and we’ll see.”
Said center Andrew Bogut: “If we get that record and don’t win a championship, it’s not worth it. I can see our coaches resting guys to make sure we’re ready. I’m not saying we’ll drop those games.”
Wouldn’t that be amazing, to rest players and still make history at 73-9. That would put the Warriors in position, with the encore title, to have the NBA’s best-ever season and one of the best ever in sports. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed Curry’s mind, which he’ll surely expound on in Canada as the indisputable star of All-Star weekend.
“It’s hard to put into words when you’re right in the middle of it,” Curry said. “Any time you do something that hasn’t been done, in the history of the NBA, with all the teams that suited up and all the great talent, it’s a special thing. You want to be able to acknowledge it, but it’s hard when you’re in the moment and trying to accomplish something bigger. It’s hard to appreciate what’s going on.”
Meantime, while Curry and Thompson and Draymond Green enjoy their All-Star rewards, Kerr will get away from it all again. Surely he’ll get calls from his old TNT broadcasting partners, Marv Albert and Reggie Miller, who were frequent phone conversationalists earlier this season as he waited to return.
“He maintained his sense of humor,” Albert said on a network conference call. “That was always important. I would try to send him articles that he would be amused by. I would kid him: ‘Imagine that you take over from Luke Walton and lose your first game.’ Obviously, that didn’t happen. He’s maintained his touch. The players love both Steve and Luke. It’s such a unique group. They’re so good and have such a great relationship with the coaches and the entire staff.”
Said Miller: “I just tried to keep him laughing. From a friend’s standpoint, you’re talking about life, your well-being, your family’s well-being. I tried to keep his spirits up and his frustration low.”
Laughter is important. The headaches have been happening seven months now, and for a man who wants to enjoy his coaching creation, it must be maddening to feel another coming.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.