OAKLAND — Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers made an impromptu visit to Steve Kerr's office last week and couldn't stop staring at the walls.
The new coach and his staff had diagramed plays and philosophical points on every crevice of every whiteboard. Myers was amazed at the amount of advanced planning.
“Hopefully it works, right?” Kerr quipped.
For Kerr and the rest of the NBA's new coaches, finding out the answer begins now.
Training camps have opened and it's a time for teams to bond and build chemistry and consistency on and off the court. It's even more critical for rookie coaches and their players to find a rhythm.
Kerr, who replaced the fired Mark Jackson, is one of nine new head coaches this season â€” four of whom have no NBA head coaching experience. The foursome includes Kerr, Derek Fisher with the New York Knicks, Utah's Quin Snyder and David Blatt in Cleveland.
While Fisher and Kerr are former point guards on NBA championship teams, Snyder's experience is limited to college, Russia and as an NBA assistant. Blatt has had successful stints internationally but now he's managing the world's best player in LeBron James and the mountain of expectations that come with that job.
“I feel like Marvin Gaye up here. I just want to get started,” Blatt said.
The challenge for the first-time head coaches will be as much about Xs and Os as managing people, personalities and relationships.
“I will for sure have to learn how to observe this team, this group of players,” said Fisher, who played for Oklahoma City last season before new Knicks president Phil Jackson hired him as New York's coach. “All players are different, guys recover at different levels and different speeds, and I think the idea behind it in the NBA is it's a journey.”
Blatt believes “less is more” for a new coach. He said his goal is to not overload the Cavaliers in camp, but rather to integrate information slowly so he can make subtle adjustments as he understands his personnel.
“I think sometimes in the face of many options, the best thing to do is to be simple,” Blatt said.
Five of the new coaches this season have head coaching experience â€” Stan Van Gundy (Detroit), Flip Saunders (Minnesota), Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn), Byron Scott (Los Angeles Lakers) and Jason Kidd (Milwaukee) â€” and know how important it is in the NBA to manage relationships and come together as a team.
“We're trying to create an identity of who we are,” Saunders said.
Kidd seemed to struggle in Brooklyn with the transition from player to coach early last season â€” his first as a head coach. One area in particular was when it came to making sure veterans got enough repetitions that he probably didn't need as an All-Star player. Figuring out his rotations also took time.
The Nets started 3-10 before a strong finish earned the Eastern Conference's sixth playoff seed. They were eliminated in the second round by Miami, and Kidd's failed attempt to gain more power in the organization this offseason ended with him going to Milwaukee. The rebuilding Bucks finished a league-worst 15-67 last year.
“This is the first day of school,” Kidd said as players went through photo shoots and interviews in the practice gym during Milwaukee's media day.
To speed up the learning curve, Kerr, like many of his new coaching colleagues, spent the offseason getting to know his players. Those efforts included playing golf with Stephen Curry, taking a trip to Australia to meet with Andrew Bogut and having dinners with David Lee in Los Angeles.
Kerr has had a couple of strong mentors to learn from in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich.
A former member of the Bulls and Spurs, Kerr has won five NBA titles: three playing for Jackson in Chicago and another two for Popovich in San Antonio.
Kerr said the best advice he was given from his mentors is to put players in position to succeed. That starts with learning more about them, and making sure they learn about each other.
“Phil Jackson used to say, 'Men don't really want to talk to each other. Women talk to each other. Men don't really want to talk to each other, we're all macho and sit around,'” Kerr said. “I remember him saying that all the time, and he used to put us in circumstances all the time where we had to communicate. Some of that is basketball. Some of that is fun stuff. But that has to be generated by the coaching staff.”