With 1:35 to go in Sunday night’s loss to the last-place Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was caught by NBA TV cameras making what appeared to be disparaging comments about Draymond Green to assistant coach Mike Brown.
Just before the game, Kerr had supported Green’s assertion that the Warriors needed both focus and energy consistently to get back on track after an embarrassing 33-point loss to the Boston Celtics. But, as the fouls — and player complaints thereabout — mounted late in Sunday’s defeat, Kerr seemed to say, “I’m so f—ing tired of Draymond.”
Green left the locker room quickly, before Kerr could speak with him, and Kerr did not address the comments during his postgame press conference, or when several reporters inquired afterwards. He did, however, address them — and Golden State’s inconsistent effort — after the Warriors’ get-what-you-need practice on Monday before the team departs for San Antonio on Tuesday.
“The lip-reader got it wrong,” Kerr said jokingly. “What I said is, ‘I beg to differ with Draymond’s approach tonight.’ Those were my exact words. I don’t know how somebody misconstrued that.”
Kerr suggested that the moment caught on tape was something of a garden variety comment that’s made over the course of an NBA game.
“It’s 2019. George Orwell was right, he just had the year wrong. He wrote 1984. I think the title should have been 2012, or so,” Kerr said. “Modern life. Everything’s recorded. Everything is filmed. I decided I’m now going to get a giant laminated board with all of my play calls, and I’m going to turn into an NFL head coach from here on out.”
Kerr also reacted to what forward Kevin Durant said in an unguarded moment in the hallways of Oracle: “We need to be playing championship level basketball.”
“I think all of our players and coaches know we’ve got to be more consistent,” Kerr said. “If you don’t think those words have been uttered by every team in the history of basketball, you’re mistaken.”
Kerr declined to say whether he and Green had addressed the moment — “That’s private,” he said — but Kerr did go on to say that he was dissatisfied with how his team kept complaining to officials throughout the course of the game about foul calls rather than focusing on the task at hand. Both Green and DeMarcus Cousins — who predictably got a technical after arguing four calls and having a lengthy chat with an official during a time-out — are notorious for that particular practice.
“We’re complaining too much to the referees, we’re expending too much energy arguing with the refs instead of just playing,” Kerr said. “I don’t think that helped. We’re putting energy where it shouldn’t be. We need to put it where it needs to be.”
Beyond the players’ undue concern with perhaps less significant issues, Kerr has had to fight against complacency and disinterest with a team that’s played in the NBA Finals four straight years, winning three titles. He stated at the team’s media day in October that his greatest task was making sure the team enjoyed every moment, and every day.
With nerves being worn and patience being tried, Kerr said he’s looking forward to getting the team on the road for four games over the next week, including three against playoff contenders: Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
“I think it will be a good chance for us to pull together,” Kerr said.
Over the last two seasons, Kerr has frequently referenced former Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat coach Pat Riley’s book, The Winner Within, which told of the “innocent climb” of a first-time championship team, versus trying to repeat and then three-peat, when the “disease of me” begins to take over a team, and the pursuit of a title becomes old-hat, and the regular season takes on less meaning. Going for a third title in three years, the Warriors have shown cracks throughout this season, from inconsistent effort to disinterest in regular-season games.
“I think this year actually reminds me a lot of last year,” Kerr said on Monday. “I think it’s similar. I think, if you look historically at any team trying to win multiple titles in a row, get to the Finals year after year, there’s a different vibe … As you go, the journey gets harder, and there’s more adversity. We saw it at the end of last year, quite a bit. We were able to pull things together and win the title.”
Golden State, though it lost 10 of its last 17 last season, could point to Stephen Curry’s groin injury as a reason. When the Rockets pushed them to seven games in the conference finals, and nearly won even without a healthy Chris Paul, that complacency and lack of focus was clearly on display. This season, the Rockets aren’t challenging the Warriors for the top seed, but they still own the No. 3 seed, and have beaten Golden State in their three previous meetings, including one by 21 points.
“We’re seeing plenty of adversity this year,” Kerr said. “I tell the players every year, there’s a reason why you pour champagne on each other when it’s all said and done, because it’s hard. It is a difficult thing that we’re trying to accomplish, and it gets more difficult as you go.”
After Sunday night’s loss, Curry was introspective about those difficulties in a locker room that had quickly emptied. The players that did remain were terse, and there were more furrowed brows and pursed lips than words being exchanged.
“We’re not going to win a championship right now in March,” Curry said. “But, the fact that we’re not happy with how we’re playing, we care about that, which is why you walk in the locker room and the vibe was the way it was. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and when we don’t get there and don’t play that way, it’s not a good feeling … We understand what it takes to win a championship, and when we get there, to the playoffs, that’s what we live for. Right now, this uncomfortable feeling should be good for us.”
Kerr has been in this situation before, as a player with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. That season — soon to be chronicled in an upcoming documentary, The Last Dance — was called The Last Dance because with Michael Jordan retiring, the ownership had made it plain that they would break up the team. With the Warriors, who hope to keep the core together, if not somehow manage to retain Cousins and Kevin Durant, are looking at continuing their run.
“Every team has a different set of circumstances, even within the same organization, last year’s team to this year’s team, we’ve got some different dynamics,” Kerr said. “The challenges are there, no matter what. The ’98 Bulls, we had a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. You ask me, we hung on for dear life to beat Utah in the Finals that year. Scottie Pippen’s riding a bike during Game 6 in the hallway at the Delta Center because his back seized up. We’re down 17 or whatever in the second quarter, we were gasping for air. That did not come easy. I go back to that line: There’s a reason you pour champagne on each other.
“It takes a tremendous amount of energy, physically and emotionally, to stay connected, to put forth the effort and the energy that it takes to achieve your goal, and it just gets harder each year. When you go through the difficulty, it makes things that much sweeter at the end.”