LOS ANGELES — Steve Kerr is widely known as an avid reader. His former head coach with the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson, was known for assigning reading lists for his players, but Kerr hasn’t gone that far. He does, however, escape the rigors of being the head coach of the most successful NBA franchise in the past decade by opening up a good book.
“But then, you pick things up,” he said on Saturday, as his team finished a morning practice before Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Kerr — a lifelong Dodgers fan — has mixed in baseball metaphors routinely during media availability sessions, and sought to learn from greats like Bill Belichick, Pat Riley and Pete Carroll. How he deals with pressure was shaped, in part, by a 1972 book about tennis — The Inner Game of Tennis — something he shares in common with Carroll. He learns as much as he can from books about other successful figures or franchises from around the sporting world, and he figures he reads one book every playoff series. This week, in the midst of arguably the most lopsided playoff series in the past 30 years, he’s read about endings.
Before Game 3, Kerr was asked what it was like to be inevitable — Golden State being a prohibitive favorite to win a third straight NBA title, even without DeMarcus Cousins — and he cited his Los Angeles youth. Growing up as a UCLA fan, he remembered thinking the Bruins would never stop winning national titles. Then John Wooden retired.
With Cousins’ future uncertain following a second devastating injury, the incessant hum of speculation surrounding Kevin Durant’s impending free agency, the aging of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, not to mention the fact that nine of Golden State’s 15 players are entering free agency this summer, this iteration of Golden State is likely nearing its end. So, naturally, as Kerr read his latest book — The Cubs Way, by Tom Verducci — what struck him most was the story of general manager Theo Epstein’s time with the Boston Red Sox, and how, after winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007, he was ready to move on to a new challenge.
“I really enjoy that book, because there’s always parallels between sports,” Kerr said. “He talked a lot about being in Boston, and having that great success, and over time, he had to move on. It’s just interesting because we’re kind of where Boston was after they’d won a couple World Series with Theo.”
That’s not where the Warriors’ brass is, with Kerr signing an extension and general manager Bob Myers laughing at the prospect of his departure, and saying throughout the season that the goal is to win every year, to be a championship contender year in and year out, no matter how the team does it. That means that, at some point, there will be turnover. Change, in Golden State’s case, won’t involve the move of Kerr or Myers to other jobs, but rather, trying to keep their current jobs fresh.
The Warriors, of course, are getting older, particularly the core of Green, Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Green’s contract is up after next season, with negotiation sure to begin this coming offseason. He’s likely to want a max deal, which the Warriors could give him, but could wind up being a massive overpayment as he inches into his 30s. Iguodala, at 35, has one more year left on his deal, and while his energy during the playoffs has helped spark Golden State on both ends of the floor, he only has so much left to give, and has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with how the NBA hamstrings defenses.
Curry, at 31, and with three years more left on his contract, is a cornerstone. He won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. Thompson, 29, is a free agent after the end of this season, and though he’s said he wants to remain a Warrior for his entire career, both Los Angeles teams could make a run at him. He’s also a player who could demand a max deal. All of that isn’t even taking Durant’s situation into account, or what is to be done with Cousins, who, after a torn quad suffered in Game 2, has had two catastrophic injuries in back-to-back seasons, and was hoping to show how he could make an impact while healthy during a deep playoff run. The market for him this offseason could be as barren as it was last summer, when he signed a veteran’s minimum deal with Golden State, but it’s still possible that he, too, departs.
It’s no surprise that Epstein’s situation with Boston struck Kerr.
“It’s always interesting, and I’d like to talk to him sometime,” Kerr said. “If I could ever meet him, it’d be really interesting to hear his take, compare notes.”
This is a different team, a less innocent team, than the one that made the first climb in 2014-15, not much different from the 2007 Red Sox club Epstein constructed after the 2004 curse-breaking championship.
“A lot of the stuff he said resonated, in terms of, your voice gets a little older,” Kerr said.
Kerr mused about how the Andrew Bogut that centered that first title run had an edge to him. Now, he’s mellowed a bit with fatherhood, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Kerr said. It just means that having children has matured him. That said, he hasn’t lost his savvy and his basketball IQ. If anything, he’s more dangerous. Bogut, Green and Iguodala have been steady anchors for the defense, and are the team’s loudest voices.
“Coaches always tell players, on defense, you’ve got to yell it out. Nobody wants to yell it out. You feel kind of self-conscious,” Kerr said. “Bogut doesn’t care. He yells … Draymond does the same thing, so to have them as a tandem, both barking, it’s great. I also think it can be a little intimidating for the offense, when the defense is not only playing well, but communicating really loudly. It’s kind of annoying and so it works.”
Kerr — who often solicits reading recommendations from beat reporters — also recently read a book about the New Zealand All-Blacks rubgy team, appropriately titled, Legacy.
“It’s all about their culture and their values,” Kerr said. “Really interesting book. Every sport is kind of the same, team sports. You’re trying to accomplish the same thing, but there’s different ways to get there, depending on the circumstances.”
Kerr’s biggest takeaway from Legacy? A chapter called Sweep the Shed.
“The idea was that the players, the All-Blacks, are responsible for cleaning up the locker room — they call the locker room the shed — and how much pride they took in being organized,” Kerr said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be great to go to our team and say that Eric Housen’s not in charge of cleaning the locker room; you guys are, so take care of your shit.’”
Kerr paused, and smirked. That may be a bridge too far. In the NBA, he said, “It wouldn’t work.”