Coaches are meant to be second-guessed, not revered, but little about Steve Kerr and the Warriors has been normal the last two seasons.
When Kerr informed his players of his long-anticipated return Friday, they welcomed the news with loads cheers. Hours later, before the Warriors turned back the Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena, he was greeted by a slew of TV cameras and thunderous fan applause.
“I said, ‘Oh, my god,’ “ Draymond Green said of the commotion. “I looked down there, and (Kerr) was walking out. It was definitely a great response and well-deserved.”
Steph Curry responded with a 39-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound triple-double that Kerr wryly credited to “great coaching,” another sign that he was back at last. Afterward, Curry wore a shirt that pictured a few players on the great Chicago Bulls teams, Kerr among them.
“That’s why I wore it,” said Curry, who added, “One-hundred percent (performance) he inspired from the jump. Hopefully, that continues.”
While it takes more than a coach to achieve success, the bond between Kerr and his team has the appearance of a special one. So if there was any significance to his comeback beyond that of good health, it was that the Warriors are whole again. He represents the final piece to the puzzle for a team that becomes the odds-on favorite to repeat as league champions, one that has designs on another special season.
“It’s more important for him to be back for his health and mental state, but yeah, definitely,” Andrew Bogut said of the renewed bond. “Whenever you’re missing your head coach, there’s a difference. He’s back, he feels great and we’re happy to have him around.”
Said Klay Thompson: “We definitely missed Steve. His presence out there gives us a calming sense, just a good feeling. So it’s great to have him back.”
In retrospect, the situation couldn’t have played out much better under the circumstances.
After complications arose from two back surgeries last offseason, the initial hope was that Kerr would be on the bench at the start of the regular season. Maybe he would sit out a couple or three games at the most. When he still didn’t feel up to snuff weeks later, however, any timetable was put on hold. In December, a report surfaced that some players wouldn’t be surprised if he returned after the All-Star break. There even were whispers he might have to sit out the season.
All logic suggested that, without its bench leader, the team would suffer if only because the promotion of assistant Luke Walton left one fewer full-time staff member. Not only did the Walton gang hold their own, but they improved in several areas as Kerr had expected all along. The more games that were won — an NBA-record 24 in a row to start the season — the less urgency there was for him to come back.
“I really felt at the beginning of the year and over the summer that we would be better just because with a new staff and a new offense, it takes a full year to grasp it and get to the next level, where it becomes second nature,” Kerr said. “I thought we had a lot of growth that we were going to make and I think we’ve made it. It didn’t matter that I was here or not.
“The players made that leap, and the coaching staff did a great job. (Defensive coordinator) Ron Adams has been phenomenal. He doesn’t get enough credit. Luke, Jarron (Collins) and Q (Bruce Fraser) and all the guys — just brilliant work.”
When Kerr finally did return, his team had a 39-4 record, best in the league. Among Western Conference teams, only the San Antonio Spurs are within seven games of them. The Dubs swept the two-game series against the Cleveland Cleveland, the Eastern Conference leaders.
And Kerr and his team like to think the best is ahead of them.
“My back is fine,” Kerr said. “My back has been fine for quite some time. The symptoms that I’ve had have been more headaches and things like that. That part has died down and I’m feeling better. I’m not worried about anybody bowling me over on the sidelines, so that’s a non-issue. As far as the lights and the noise, I don’t see that being an issue.”
While there are sure to be tests ahead — the Spurs visit Oracle on Monday night — perhaps the most difficult of all may be over now.