With the exception of those working in youth leagues where the rules stipulate that each player sees a certain amount of action, a coach should never have to explain a damn thing regarding playing time.
To anybody. It’s nobody’s business but their own.
Yet there was Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Friday night, stifling his exasperation while addressing questions regarding his decision to sit some of his studs against the Nuggets. Classy guy that he is, Kerr even offered a half-hearted apology to Denver fans who might have purchased tickets for that night’s game for the express purpose of seeing Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson do their All-Star thang.
Were Kerr more of a veteran coach, he would likely have taken the route favored by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose contempt for such questions is palpable. Pop, perhaps the poster boy among coaches who make liberal and unapologetic use of the DNP-CD (did not play-coach’s decision) in the name of minty playoff freshness, barely stops short of telling anyone who has a problem with his approach to perform unnatural acts upon themselves.
Kerr, who at this point in his Warriors tenure seems simply incapable of striking anything but the right chord, went so far as to offer a modicum of sympathy. Basically said he’d probably be upset, too, if he’d plunked down NBA-ticket money to give his kids a glimpse of Steph and instead ended up having to tell Junior to keep a keen eye on some guy they call “Mo Buckets.”
Expressing sympathy and offering an apology are two very different animals, of course, and thankfully, Kerr stopped short of apologizing for looking out for No. 1 (and No. 30 and No. 11). Such an apology should never be sought in the first place, because speaking of first place, that’s all that really matters.
As in championships, of which Popovich has five as coach of the Spurs. Kerr, you might have noticed, doesn’t lack for gaudy rings himself. He won five as a player, including two under Pop. To say the Warriors’ amiable rookie coach has learned from the best would be an understatement along the lines of, “Jed York is unpopular.” Kerr won his other three rings as a player under Phil Jackson, and the only reason Jackson didn’t routinely rest his best player is that his best player happened to be the most ruthlessly competitive athlete in history.
Michael Jordan wouldn’t sit out a practice, much less a game. This is a man who single-handedly destroyed the NBA career of a once-promising teammate — Rodney McCray — by tormenting and attacking him with such ferocity in scrimmages that Jackson eventually insisted they never be on opposite ends of the shirts-and-skins spectrum.
Jackson gave Shaquille O’Neal a rest whenever he damn well pleased when they were together in Los Angeles, though. Kobe Bryant, too, despite Kobe’s borderline pathological I-Wanna-Be-Like-Mike protestations. It’s smart. It’s logical. It works.
And if Kerr is as wise as he seems to be, he’ll continue to turn a deaf ear to anyone whining that the NBA owes its good-money-paying fans the opportunity to see the visiting team’s best players when they’re in town. Kerr owes his bosses, his team, and his team’s fans their best possible shot at winning a championship, and if that means disappointing little Donnie in Denver or little Tammy in Toronto — or, gasp!, saying Thompson has a sprain that’ll keep him out seven to 10 days (wink, wink) — so be it.
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).