Warriors head coach Steve Kerr won a title in his first season on the sidelines and nearly capped off the second with another. Now, his team looks as poised as ever to make another appearance in the Finals. On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Kerr sat down with Bill to discuss everything from the Warriors to Michael Jordan to Tom Brady to the Chargers.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Kerr Still Can’t Believe the Warriors Won 73 Games
Bill Simmons: I remember we did a pod once where you promised me nobody would ever win 73 games.
Steve Kerr: I did, didn’t I?
Simmons: You said Michael [Jordan]’s will to win was just never happening again. There were 12 games a year that he just won by himself.
Kerr: It’s true.
Simmons: [And] you’d never see it again. Then years later, you coached a 73-win team, you won a title, now we’re in a conference room in Oakland. How are you feeling about the team?
Kerr: First of all, I’m going to guarantee you that nobody ever wins 74 games. Ever. There’s no way. I stand by that one. If I was wrong the first time, there’s no way I’m wrong this time.
Simmons: Well, can you believe you won 73?
Simmons: How many games did you guys pull out of your ass, like eight?
Kerr: At least five. We have a better point differential this year, we’re blowing more teams out, but we’ve lost all three overtime games. We’re 0–3 in overtime, I think, so we are, as we speak, 43–8. A year ago, I think we had four losses at this time.
This Year Is Different — Now Golden State Is Evil
Kerr: I would say the biggest [difference] is early in [this] season, we didn’t have that continuity that we had last year.
Simmons: Well, you added one of the 22 best players of all time, just kind of threw him in there.
Kerr: We did, which was an incredible blessing to have, but we also lost seven guys from last year’s team, so we overhauled half of the roster. So the continuity wasn’t there at the beginning of the year. It’s really growing now.
Simmons: Plus you guys are evil.
Kerr: We are, yeah.
Simmons: To be evil has to be tough, right? To just be like, "Man, we just stand for all the wrong things. We’re Darth Vader now."
Kerr: That’s kind of a different role for us. The last couple years, we were sort of the darlings. Everybody loves Steph Curry. So then we get KD and now we’re the villains. That’s the way it goes.
Simmons: Not to kiss your ass, [but] I think you handled it really well, because you addressed it immediately. You kept joking about how you’re the villains now, you’re Darth Vader — and you defused it. In the wrong hands, that might have gone the wrong way, and teams get uptight. You saw it happen when you were doing TNT [during] the first Miami-LeBron year. I thought [being villains] really affected those guys, and it affected their whole season.
Kerr: I thought so, too. Our team’s nature is to be very free and loose and happy-go-lucky. We just thought defusing it with humor was the best way to go. We had T-shirts made up: "supervillains" T-shirts. And Steph picked up on it, and he had a birthday party for his daughter at his house, and there was a big "supervillains" sign made out of balloons. It’s just something that’s part of the narrative. I think you realize after you’ve been in the NBA for a long time that every year, there’s different stories, different themes, and they don’t have to make sense, but people are going to go with it, and it shouldn’t really bother you. It’s all part of it. You just roll with it, and the main thing is just come to practice, try to get better, and have fun, and whatever people are going to say, they’re going to say.
Simmons: You were in the media, which helps. You know how the games go.
Kerr: I know how the game goes.
Simmons: It’s boring! You gotta come up with a new thing every time.
The Warriors Ascended Faster Than Anyone Could Have Expected
Simmons: Let’s go backward, though. … [In 2015] you have a great, fairy-tale season, you guys win the title.
Kerr: That was such a magical season and a magical finish. To win the title in my first year coaching, I mean, I hadn’t imagined. I knew the talent was really good and I thought, "All right, we can take the next step." The team had lost in the first round the year before to the Clippers and I thought, "All right, well we can take the next step. We can get better." They were right there against the Clippers.
So I knew this team had a lot of potential and I thought, "All right, we can take the next step." Get to the conference semis, maybe even get to the conference finals, and over the next few years, I think we’ll have the chance to get really good. It happened right away.
The foundation was there. That was the main thing. When I came on board, the team was already great defensively. They had been the fourth-ranked defense in the league the year before, so I saw it right away. There was continuity, the guys liked each other, there was good chemistry and the foundation had already been built. Defensively — trading for [Andrew] Bogut — I think Mark Jackson had the right approach in terms of [making] this a defensive-minded team. The Warriors, think about it, for 20 years, it was just try to outscore everybody. Games were wildly entertaining, but to win, you have to defend.
That’s when I realized we could be pretty good: When I saw just how good our defense was right away. And then the whole thing was just developing our offense and getting more movement, getting more pace and more ball movement, more flow. Those are the things we really worked on and that we’ve gotten better with.
Simmons: You had put just insane amounts of time not just thinking about what kind of offense you’d run, but you were like banking out-of-bounds plays. You prepared for this like it was an invasion. How many out-of-bounds plays did you have, like 300?
Kerr: Definitely not. Maybe 50 of them.
Simmons: Fifty. Brad Stevens has 300. You gotta step it up.
Kerr: Well, Brad’s a master with that stuff. He’s amazing. My last two years at TNT, as I was preparing for coaching, [were spent trying] to talk to every coach that I could [and] pick their brains. Jeff Van Gundy was a big help. And I watched League Pass every night anyway, because that’s what I loved to do, and I was preparing for my job. And every time I saw a play I liked, I would just put it in a video library, and that was my preparation.
Simmons: So high-tech.
Kerr: Well, I had somebody do that for me. I’d send an email to my buddy who ended up coming aboard with us here with the Warriors, and I’d say, "Hey, 4:23 of the first quarter, Clippers play versus Boston." And he’d put it in the library.
Kerr Doesn’t Recommend Back Surgery
Simmons: You get to the Finals, just everything goes perfectly, then at some point your back goes out. It gets worse. You rupture a disk playing golf, you get the surgery, and then at what point did you think, "Oh my god. I actually might not be able to coach?"
Kerr: I don’t want to go too much into detail on this, but I will just say to anybody out there who’s having back problems: Do not get surgery.
I mean, it can be successful, [but] it should be the last resort. You gotta rely on Mother Nature and rehab. I went to one of the [best] back specialists in the world and it was supposedly a simple microdiscectomy. It’s a simple surgery. It wasn’t like a fusion or anything like that. [It] was supposed to be a simple procedure, one that I’ve got half a dozen friends who’ve all had it, and [for whom] it’s gone really well. It did not go well for me, and so it was a tough, tough road last year. Just a couple weeks after surgery, starting to feel headaches and neck pain and dizziness, it was bizarre. And that led to me missing half the season. Then I was able to come back, and fortunately I’m doing better. But I’m still in some pain and it’s no fun, getting old and feeling pain all the time.
Simmons: You’re a pretty athletic guy still. Not just that you played, but you surfed and played golf, all that stuff.
Kerr: I still work out every day, but I’ve been limited in what I can do. That’s hard. At 51, I should just be entering my golfing peak.
Simmons: MMA. Do some, in the cage.
Kerr: Maybe that too, yeah, why not? But I’m all right and I can’t complain. I’ve got an unbelievable gig, I love living in the Bay Area. Our players and our staff are so awesome to work with. This is an amazing group of people to be with and to work with every day. It’s awesome.
Simmons: How involved were you [during] that first half of the season even though you couldn’t coach? The team’s playing so well and you’re not feeling good. Are you just sending emails? Are you on the phone? Are you texting?
Kerr: I didn’t travel with the team. I would talk to Luke Walton every day. I would talk to players, I would text players if I saw stuff. And then at home, I was coming to practices every day, so I was taking part in practice. I was involved and the players knew I was there, and Luke was just amazing, just an unbelievable assistant and great friend. It all worked out. Last year, we really just kind of picked up where we left off after winning the title. the whole thing was so smooth right from the start. We had basically the whole roster back.
Why the Warriors Don’t Have to Worry About "The Disease of More"
Simmons: For my book I had a whole chapter about [how] after a team wins a title, what happens to them, and [I asked you about] "the disease of more" versus the "eff-you edge." You played on that ’97 Bulls team that came back the next year and still had the edge. And you were basically saying the reason [you] had the edge was because Michael was a complete maniac. So what made that Warriors after-the-title team? Was it because everyone was kind of discounting it, because of the injuries on Cleveland? What was the reason?
Kerr: I think "the disease of more" was not much of a factor for us. We naturally have a lot of really team-oriented guys who loved winning, loved playing together, and so what really kicked in was the continuity and the confidence from winning the title. We came out just thinking, "Nobody can touch us. We just won the whole thing and we got everybody back, we’re gonna be even better." And we were better. But we couldn’t finish it out, obviously, and you talked about all the things that went right for us the year before, which is dead on. Last year, things kind of went wrong, in a lot of ways. Steph got hurt the very first playoff game. He came back during the first round, but then missed a couple more [games]. It was really set up for a tough run. And then of course in the Finals, Bogut gets hurt and Draymond [Green] gets suspended. I’m not using this as an excuse, I’m just saying—
Simmons: It’s all legit.
Kerr: Every year stuff like this happens. The year before, things went right. Last year, things kind of went wrong. You gotta be able to play through that and find a way, and we just weren’t quite able to do that and Cleveland was. They were fantastic and they deserved to win.
Simmons: I think every great team has a window, right? You got maybe like three years, four years, five years. For the Celtics with KG and those guys — it was a three-year run, and then they were able to squeeze two more years out of it, but it was really three. I think with you guys (and I don’t know what Durant does to this window, and it might be seven, eight years, who knows) the over-under was probably one and a half to win titles these last two years? I mean, you could have easily won two.
Kerr: Before the first title, we were not considered a championship [team]. If you’re talking about odds like in Vegas, I don’t think anybody expected us to win the first one, but if you just look at it in retrospect—
Simmons: I had a little wager on you guys.
Kerr: There you go. Did you?
Simmons: I really did!
Kerr: Really? Nice. What were the odds? Do you remember?
Simmons: We bet when it was 30–1. I was like, "I like this Steve Kerr guy. He’s from the tutelage of [Gregg] Popovich and Phil Jackson."
Kerr: "And by the way, this Steph Curry guy’s not bad either."
When Kerr Realized Curry Was Special
Simmons: I was just gonna ask you about when you realized that there was some — he’s not MJ obviously, nobody’s MJ except for Tom Brady — but when did you realize … there’s something different [about Steph]?
Kerr: Like magic. Not Magic Johnson, like there’s something magical.
Simmons: There’s a piece of something in him that reminds you of guys you played with.
Kerr: Yeah. I would not equate any of the skill set to those guys, but whatever it is, whatever "it" is, he’s got it. And you can see it.
Simmons: Did you see it from day one that [first] season? Or was there a moment during the season when it started to pop out?
Kerr: I think it took a month or so. He was still pretty wild in training camp. We started out 5–0, and we were averaging 22 turnovers.
And it was like, "This is not gonna work. This is not sustainable." We really had to [get to] an understanding of how this was going to work. We lost our next two games — the Spurs blew us out. We had like 24 turnovers and shot like 54 percent and we lost by 12 points*. And it was the easiest thing for me to do, to walk into the practice facility the next day and hold up the box score and go, "We shot 54 percent at home and lost by 12 points. [We] basically got crushed." One number [there had] to change and it was turnovers. Once Steph figured out that he had to take care of the ball — that three turnovers is fine, six is not — once that changed and he started getting superefficient rather than just explosive, then our team changed.
[*Editor’s note: The Warriors turned the ball over 19 times and lost by 13 against the Spurs.]
How the Warriors We Know Now Came Together
Kerr: The other thing that really changed us was Draymond Green. We didn’t think he would start, we thought David Lee would start. David had an amazing training camp [but] got hurt with a hamstring injury and missed the first month of the season. We were so good [that month], I went to David before he came back and said, "This probably isn’t fair, but you’re not getting your starting job back. This is how we’re gonna play. Draymond is too good for us, we’re right where we need to be and you’re gonna have to come off the bench." To David’s credit, he accepted the bench role.
Simmons: That could have gone bad.
Kerr: It could have, it could have, but he hung in there and he had a big role in the Finals, had a couple great games against Cleveland. It all worked out. And of course the other thing was Andre Iguodala taking a seat on the bench willingly after starting every game of his entire career. That was big.
Simmons: So you tapped into two major chemistry things there, because you asked David Lee to basically give up his job, and you asked Iguodala to come off the bench when he’s making $12 million a year. Do you think because you played and you won titles with San Antonio and Chicago [that you had] more leeway than the average coach? Or are those just good guys? Or both?
Kerr: It’s mostly that they’re good guys. A lot of it was that [with] Andre, it came at the right time of his career. Like if I had gone to him in his fifth year [and asked him to come off the bench], he would have been like, "What are you talking about?" But [when] you’re in your 10th year, you’ve seen it all [and] you’ve made a ton of money. I think Andre was at the right time of his career to do it. He’s a great team guy, he wants to play the right way.
Simmons: He’s probably smart, too, right? It’s like, "That’s 26 minutes a game. That sounds great!"
Kerr: Yeah, maybe extend his career. And he was a Bulls fan growing up and I think he respected the fact that I was on those teams and that I had a first-hand knowledge of how all those dynamics worked for the Bulls teams and the depth that we had and the importance of every guy.
Golden State Is as Physical as Anyone
Simmons: Did [Iguodala] remember your vicious feud with John Stockton?
Kerr: I don’t think he did.
Simmons: One of the most vicious feuds in NBA history. You guys were like two pit bulls!
Kerr: Yeah, two Finals in a row.
Simmons: Did you guys date the same girl in high school or something? What happened with this?
Kerr: He was such a great player. [I was] guarding him for … six games two years in a row in the Finals. And he was dirty — in a good way, like you wanted to be his teammate, but not his opponent.
Simmons: He was definitely dirty. The Utah fans got mad when I wrote that in my book. I’m like, "Sorry, the tape doesn’t lie."
Kerr: He was. And I say it with perfect respect. I like guys who are gonna try to get away with everything they can. I want my players to do that. He was an unbelievable screen-setter. He would kind of trip you, like when you’re bringing the ball up the floor, without making it look like it. He was an unbelieveable cutter. He’d grab your arm as he cut past you to get your momentum going the other way, and then next thing you know, he’s laying the ball in, and you’re looking at the ref like, "He grabbed my arm!" So much respect. He was sharp. He was one of the smartest players ever, but when you play against that time and time again, you get a little frustrated.
Simmons: Now you fast-forward to last year’s Finals and guys are just body blowing Steph. It got so physical, and it was smart, and it was exactly what the Clippers did to him. Chris Paul was the first guy I really saw just say, "I’m gonna commit 40 fouls on him and if they don’t call them right away, I’m just gonna keep fouling him." And then you saw that happen during the playoffs, and by the time we got to the Finals, I really thought he was banged up. And he seems bigger this year.
Kerr: He’s a little bigger, yeah. I thought it was more the fact that he was banged up than the physical play. The physical play you have to expect in the playoffs. That’s just the way it’s always going to be. You can’t possibly call every foul in the playoffs or the game would never get started. We’re doing the same thing, by the way. We’re being physical defensively, we’re trying to grab and hold when we can. But we happen to play a lot more off the ball than most teams. In fact, we’re dead last in the league in number of pick-and-rolls. We’ve been like [bottom three] the last three years. So what people complain about with us is our screening. They complained a lot with Bogut, complained a lot with Zaza [Pachulia]. But most teams run on-ball screen-and-roll, and so the away-from-the-ball holding isn’t really a problem because everyone’s just spotting up.
Simmons: What do you call those things where I run toward you and then I do the quick five-step start and I’m getting the ball? It’s almost like a—
Kerr: Slip? We call it a slip.
Simmons: Yeah! You guys have mastered that this year in [a way where] it’s kind of unstoppable. It’s not really a pick-and-roll, I don’t know what it is.
Kerr: It’s kind of a fake pick-and-roll. There’s so much switching now in the NBA, and we do a ton of it ourselves. That’s the trend: You get a bunch of guys who are 6-foot-7 and strong, and they can all guard all five positions — a bunch of Draymond Greens, Andre Iguodalas. If you can do that, then switching becomes a really difficult defense to attack, because every offense is designed to create an advantage for penetration. But every time you switch, if you do it well, there’s nowhere to go, and a guy has to go one-on-one. We’re seeing more and more of that. You’ve seen lots of teams set screens and slip screens, trying to deceive the defense and see if you can create an opening, rather, through a screen, through a slip of a screen.
And They’re One of the Most Talented Teams Ever Assembled
Simmons: It seems like you guys have four different variations off of whatever might happen, and it also helps when you have three of the 10 best shooters in the history of the league, including the best one.
Kerr: We have a ton of talent, and we know that. We’re so lucky. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been so consistent: Because even on a bad night, we have a chance to win, because we’re loaded with talent. The key for us is playing to our standard, trying to have a set of standards that we can reach every night. And then, just understanding that we’ve got a lot of playmakers. The guys who are really unsung on this team, who are critical, [Shaun] Livingston, Iguodala. Last year, you know, Bogut and Harrison Barnes were really amazing players but didn’t get a lot of respect. It’s been the depth of our weapons. Iguodala and Livingston are tremendous passers, so if we can just move the ball four or five times, we almost always have a guy who’s capable of making a play at any time on the floor, and that’s a real luxury to have.
Simmons: The passing’s been unbelievable. The [late ’90s] Bulls [were a] brilliant basketball team, but didn’t pass like that. It was a lot of one-on-one.
Kerr: Well, we had the ultimate one-on-one player in Michael. Phil’s whole thing, with the triangle, was to create some flow and to get everybody involved and to try to get the motion and the flow that creates good shots. The guys who could really make plays were [Scottie] Pippen and Jordan, and then [Toni] Kukoc. We had a good passer with [Luc] Longley in the low post. We just tried to move the ball, but ultimately Michael would take over game after game. What we have here is a little different. We don’t have the physical monster like Michael or LeBron, who’s just gonna literally take over a game with sheer force.
Simmons: You actually do. His name is Kevin Durant. He’s 7 feet tall, he’s gigantic.
Kerr: No. He’s phenomenal, but he does it with skill. He doesn’t do it with force.
Simmons: You’re right.
Kerr: I think LeBron does it like a middle linebacker. KD does it with skill. Steph does it with skill. And it’s incredible skill, but it’s not like this overpowering physical strength that allows [them] to do that.
Simmons: [Russell] Westbrook is the no. 1 on [physicality]. Westbrook is like, "I’ve got the rebound …"
Kerr: "I’m going."
Simmons: "I’m gonna be able to get a layup now. Does anyone want to get in my way? I bet not."
Kerr: That’s right.
Simmons: You knew [Durant] was great. You went against him last year and he was spectacular in that playoff series. He takes everything a tiny bit personally, which is good in a way. He always has the chip [on his shoulder]. But [when I interviewed him] I was like, "I’ve never seen you play all-around basketball like that." He was like, "I was doing that for eight years." I was like, "I’m not sure, actually."
The way he played on both ends, and the way he protected the rim [in that series has] carried over. It’s like he’s been unleashed on this team as an all-around everything. Now, the question is: Was that always there and he just needed to find the right team? Is it the right time of his career? Is it all of those things? What do you think it is?
Kerr: It’s a different team, it’s different personnel. He’s not asked to carry as much of the load offensively, for obvious reasons. We’ve got Steph and Klay and Draymond. We’ve got guys who can carry the team, so he’s playing fewer minutes. I think he’s averaging 34 [minutes] for us. He was probably at 38 in OKC. I think he’s at the time of his career, too, where he’s smarter and wiser. And I think we’ve pushed him — we’ve told him, "For seven games last year, you were devastating against us. This is what you’re capable of." I think he still has room for improvement. He can be brilliant defensively, but he has his moments — and he knows this — where he loses focus and lets his guard down. We’re just trying to get him to be as consistent as possible.
Simmons: So, you had that Game 6 against OKC, which is on [my] short list [of] great NBA games. [And] OKC is ready to go to the Finals. You guys are tired, you played a ton of games over the two years, and Klay just has an out-of-body experience. You’ve had games like that.
Kerr: Not like that. He had 42* points.
[*Editor’s note: Thompson had 41 points in Game 6.]
Simmons: I was trying to pump you up a little bit.
Kerr: Thanks, thanks. I did have games like that where I had 10. "Hey, 4-for-4. Way to go!"
Simmons: What about in ’03, the Dallas-Spurs game, the playoff game?
Kerr: I had 12 points.
Simmons: But you were 38* years old!
[*Editor’s note: Kerr was 37 during the 2003 playoffs.]
Kerr: That was my equivalent of Klay. It’s a scale. It’s relative to your ability. But that was my out-of-body experience. What Klay did, that was one of the most remarkable individual performances that anybody’s ever had, considering the circumstances. We were kind of dead in the water.
Simmons: And it was one of those games where it was like, one more 3 and you were done. It was over.
Kerr: Yeah. And it’s not like we were running these great offensive sets to get [Thompson] open shots. We were trying everything. Their defense was devastating, and he just started launching these "Oh my God — no, no, no, yes, yes, yes" shots. The thing with Klay [is] he can get [his shot] off at any time. He’s so big and strong. He can get that shot off any time and from anywhere.
Simmons: Do you just not look at him? Because it seems like, when he’s having the out-of-body experience, everybody just stays away from him and he just looks at the floor like somebody invaded his body.
Kerr: Klay and Steph, you don’t want them thinking too much. They are who they are because they’re gunslingers. So, you gotta allow for some bad shots. You gotta allow for some misses, and you gotta trust that, at some point, they’re going to get going. They almost always do. All I try to do, as a coach, is — if they start taking really bad ones — just step in and remind them: "You got all these great teammates. If you don’t have a good one, move it on, reposition. You get a better shot later in the possession." But I don’t ever want to take away what makes them who they are. You can’t put a governor on them, you just kinda have to give a little advice here and there.
Game 7 Against Cleveland Was Destined to Become a One-on-One Battle
Simmons: Game 7. Cleveland. Have you watched that game since?
Kerr: I’ve watched it like three times.
Simmons: Was it to torture [yourself], or to learn from it?
Kerr: To learn from it. I mean, I watched it immediately.
Simmons: Listen, I’ve watched a lot of Boston losses. I’m watching it hoping a play is going to [go] differently, knowing that it’s not going to.
Kerr: Yeah, there’s some of that, but mainly, you’re trying to learn and trying to get better.
Simmons: What would you do differently? Anything?
Kerr: I would. But I’m not gonna tell you because, you know …
Kerr: It’s some personnel stuff, some lineup stuff that I could’ve done differently. That’s not fair to say publicly, but I absolutely would have done some things differently. I think our players would tell you they probably would have done some things differently.
Simmons: Maybe it was the pressure of the moment, maybe it was the pressure of the two seasons together [but] all of a sudden you were one-on-one in the last two minutes and it was not what you guys were.
Kerr: Almost every NBA game, when it’s close, devolves into a one-on-one battle. It really does. … I think what happens is it gets harder to execute down the stretch moving the ball because there’s a lot of holding and grabbing away from the ball. Just a fact, it’s not anything other than that. The game gets tougher. [A] player’s natural tendency is to get the ball to your best player and kind of move out of the way. We want to get motion, we want to execute as best we can. We’re at our best when the ball’s moving three or four times but there are games where it just doesn’t happen. … And sometimes that means you start to get less ball movement, as well. It’s kind of a fine balance.
The Warriors Didn’t "Chase" 73 Wins, but Kerr Wouldn’t Change a Thing
Simmons: I’m so glad you went for the 73. Like [when] the Pats tried to go 19–0 and they ended up not getting it in the last two minutes. [If] they get it, they’re immortal. And it’s like you guys had already won the title, now you had a chance to go back-to-back, and I’m sure that season has to be so special for everybody. The crowd’s coming an hour and a half before the games to watch Steph warm up and all the great moments. I just can’t imagine you would, as a do-over, be like, "Ah, I wish we hadn’t done that."
Kerr: I wouldn’t change anything and what I would tell you is we never felt like we chased anything. If you look at the minutes played, our top guys all were at 33, 34 minutes. Nobody even averaged 35. We had some injuries where guys were out. Andre missed a couple weeks, Bogut missed time, but the other guys were healthy.
Simmons: You know what it was? The Celtics. Brad Stevens really taught the league what to do against you guys.
Kerr: How to beat us? It always comes back to Brad Stevens and the Celtics with you.
Simmons: That was it, that was when it turned.
Kerr: No. But I think a lot of people have kind of used that narrative [to say], "Well, maybe they shouldn’t have chased 73."
Simmons: I think that’s bullshit.
Kerr: I don’t think we chased anything. I really don’t.
Simmons: It’s not what sports is about. If you hadn’t won a title before, I can see it, but at that point you’re going for something different.
Kerr: And I think it’s important to define "chase." Yes, we wanted the record. Our guys wanted it, and they were going after it. But chasing it means you’re getting out of your stride, right? We didn’t get out of our stride, we didn’t play anybody when they were banged up. And the bottom line is, we were right there. We were up 3–1 in the Finals. If we win one of those games, nobody’s talking about [whether] the chase hurt us. But the results dictate that there’s going to be the story line. And if that’s the story then that’s fine, but we don’t have any regrets about the way we approached the season, that’s for sure.
Simmons: Were you worried about [the team] after?
Kerr: No, no. Sports are weird. Especially when you’re on the inside. When you’re coaching, when you’re playing, there’s less hysteria than there is as a fan, right?
Simmons: Than on the internet? What are you talking about? And on message boards?
Kerr: Surprisingly, yes. It’s surprising. Who knew? But it’s all very matter of fact, and one of the biggest challenges as a professional athlete these days is to avoid all that hysteria because it can be self-fulfilling.
Simmons: I would say it’s a challenge for a coach.
Kerr: It is. It’s a huge challenge. So you’ve got to be able to have perspective, you’ve got to have balance. And that’s part of our job as coaches: to remind [the players] that it’s not the end of the world. Yeah, we wanted to win desperately. We didn’t win, it didn’t happen. It happened the year before. We just want to keep giving ourselves a shot, year after year and see what happens. I don’t think any of our players walked away from last year going, "We should’ve done this, we should’ve done that. My life’s forever changed." It’s like we lost a game, it sucks, you move on, you go home, you kiss your wife and your kids, and you go play golf, go do something fun. You come back the next year, you give it another shot. You’ve got to avoid all the hysteria that goes along with it.
Simmons: Plus, you knew Durant was coming, he told you like after Game 7.
Kerr: That’s right, it was actually after Game 4.
Simmons: He’s like, "Don’t worry guys. I got this."
Kerr: By the way, I was kidding. That [would be] tampering.
Durant and Curry Have Found Their Groove Together
Simmons: Around Christmas, I did start to wonder about the Durant-Curry thing. I won’t say it was an issue, but it did feel like Curry was trying so hard to let Durant have his moment offensively. … You have him and Curry on the same team, and the history of basketball says it’s really hard when you have two unbelievable offensive players on one team [to figure out] how the give-and-take goes, and I think you saw it in December, and now it seems like you’re in a better spot.
Kerr: We’re in a great spot and it’s mostly [that] Steph has changed. KD has been really consistent all year long.
Simmons: So what did Curry change?
Kerr: He realized he could be aggressive and shoot 25 times and it wasn’t going to affect KD. I think early in the season he felt like, "Man I’ve got to get this guy involved, I’ve got to get him the ball." But what makes KD so unique is that he doesn’t need the ball. He doesn’t even need volume of field goal attempts. He’s had multiple games this year where he’s had 12 shots and 25 points. It’s incredible — his efficiency. He doesn’t care that he doesn’t have to be the alpha. He doesn’t have to get 20 shots.
Our team even realized that when Steph just is aggressive and is shooting his 30-footers in transition and going nuts, that’s when we are at our best. KD not only appreciates it, but enjoys it and feeds off of that. And you never worry about Klay. Klay’s going to get his shots up. I think Draymond has adapted really well to a slightly different role and I think Steph finally realized, "Oh wait a second, I can still do all this and all those guys are going to be fine, and our team has grown comfortable with it and our defense has gotten better, too." Which plays a role, because now you get stops. Steph’s more likely to get a transition 3 and the house comes down, so I think those things together kind of happen at the same time, and we’ve gotten a lot better over the last six weeks.
Simmons: You know what else helps? That you can have [one of] Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry on the floor for [all] 48 minutes. It’s really helpful to have that.
Kerr: It’s amazing how much better you become as a coach when you have really, really good players. I don’t know how that works.
Coaching Draymond Has Gotten Easier
Simmons: How many kids do you have?
Kerr: I have three.
Simmons: Is Draymond harder than all three kids combined?
Kerr: He was last year. He’s easy this year.
Simmons: He’s easy this year? Did Durant help? Why is he easier?
Kerr: I think a number of things. Draymond is, first of all, somebody who’s extremely motivated to get better. And he talked over the summer about [how] he wanted to take the next step as a player [and] as a person, and that meant kind of reining himself in. He’s become much more of a partner in coaching this team this year.
The rest of the guys have all been that way for the last couple years. Andre’s a coach on the floor. Shaun Livingston, very stoic and smart. Draymond has always been the engine, the emotional guy who could get a little out of control.
Simmons: I mean you did play on the Jail Blazers. So you’ve seen emotion at its worst level. Draymond’s a walk in the park.
Kerr: What a great experience that was. That was awesome. That might’ve been the most fun year I’ve ever had in the NBA, just to see the dysfunction. I had never seen it anywhere else.
Simmons: Why didn’t you keep a journal?
Kerr: I think I did.
Simmons: That would be the best book. That would be the Breaks of the Game of this generation. So you think Draymond’s in a better place?
Kerr: He’s in a much better place. He’s grown a lot.
Kerr’s Confidence Has Grown Along With the Team’s Chemistry
Simmons: You sound very confident, sounds like you like your team.
Kerr: I love our team, and it doesn’t guarantee anything, but we have great chemistry.
Simmons: Would you say you were this confident in the summer?
Kerr: No, because I hadn’t seen it yet. You never know what you have until you see it. But the combination of KD just fitting in so seamlessly [and] Steph sort of remembering who he is and Draymond’s maturity. And I think adding Zaza and David West has been quietly important for us. They’re both really good, strong leaders. I think David, in particular, has been great for Draymond. Draymond has so much respect for David.
David could run for office. And actually that’s probably the wrong analogy. David probably wouldn’t go into politics because of all the BS that’s in politics. David is a tremendous human being. Incredibly smart. Genuinely wants to help. So he can’t go into politics. He’s got to go somewhere else. He could be like the greatest community leader, he can do anything he wants. He is smart as a whip, he’s tough, he’s fair. He could be an incredible coach. He’s intellectual, he follows politics, he follows history — he doesn’t mince his words, but he’s not a blowhard. He listens. I mean this guy has been fantastic for our team.
The NBA’s Unique Political Position
Simmons: I told you I didn’t want to talk about politics because you’ve said a ton already. But the one thing I did want to ask you about is just the NBA’s position right now and how it’s changed since you played and how intelligent the league is now. And [how] socially aware [the NBA is]. You look at how sports has played into everything that’s gone on in this country in the last couple years. It’s by far the best league for just being aware and caring and giving a shit and — I don’t want to use the word liberal — I would say educated and thoughtful.
Kerr: I’m glad you didn’t use the word liberal because it takes on a connotation.
Simmons: Also, there’s a lot of foreign players in the league, too. People come from all kinds of backgrounds. It’s this melting pot of the world.
Kerr: To me, it has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. It has to do with being compassionate and fair. And I think Adam Silver has been amazing [at] leading the charge in terms of promoting equality. We have such a perfect demographic to do it. As you said, we’ve got over a hundred foreign players from all over the world. We have this melting pot in this league, and the players have been great in terms of community service over the years. I see our guys doing a ton of stuff like players are doing all over the league. Not just for promotional value and the camera, but genuinely good work. I’ve been with Steph at hospitals without any media with kids, and you can’t even believe the effect he has on these kids. So I think our league understands the power that we have. Our players understand the power and they’re using it to promote things that are critical.
Simmons: But how do you explain the maturity of the players and the wherewithal that they have? There’s so many ways to get in trouble now with social media. Like, imagine if they had had Twitter in the mid-’90s with all the guys in the league back then. I just don’t understand why these guys are so thoughtful about anything.
Kerr: I think the times call for thoughtfulness. How old are you?
Simmons: 47. Jesus.
Kerr: I’m 51. So for me, my earliest memories from a social awareness standpoint are the Vietnam [War] protests in the early ’70s. It was at the tail end of Vietnam. I remember the hippie generation, everybody complaining about war, antiwar protesters. And then we went into this basically 30-year run of peace. There’s the Cold War, but that ends when the Soviet Union breaks apart. We had this incredible era of peace. Social media, pop culture reflects that. Think about the music of the ’80s. The ’70s music was all antiwar and drugs, so we basically missed most of that until right now. And now you’re seeing this change where people are rallying and protesting because there’s a reason for it. We don’t have this peace and prosperity. We, all of a sudden, have this really dangerous, scary time in the world, and I think people see that. I think our players see that and feel it. It’s almost like there’s a call to duty, to speak up, and I think our players are responding.
Simmons: It’s been 15 years now where you’ve said to me, "LeBron never gets enough credit for just how well he’s handled himself. Guy’s never been in trouble in his life." I love that he said that to [Charles] Barkley. I thought he came off as a little sensitive, but I love that he said to Barkley, "Hey man I’ve never been in trouble. All I’ve done is played hard, taken care of my body, and represented every team I’ve had." And I wonder: If you have enough veterans, and those guys teach the next group, and that group rises up, and now they’re Iguodala’s age, and now they’re teaching the Durant group, and then those guys are in their prime, now they’re with the Ian Clark group. This just becomes how the league goes, and these guys [are] just passing it down.
Kerr: I think that’s a good way to look at it. There’s this great leadership that’s happened kind of organically from within as the league has grown in popularity and strength and it’s all tied together. The last 10 years have been a boon for the NBA. The product is great, the best players are great, a lot of great story lines, and it just so happens you got a bunch of guys who are really good people, who are in these limelight roles where people are watching and listening.
When Will We Max Out on How Many 3s Can Be Put Up in a Game?
Simmons: The product’s great, and yet I don’t want to get to the point where teams are shooting 70 3s a game. I just don’t. I know the math makes sense and I know we’re in a math era and a win-probability era and all this crap, but the Celtics have broken their own franchise record for 3s in a game I think 10 different times already this year. And at some point you’re going to go in a playoff series, and you’ll probably play Houston, and they’re going to shoot 70 3s a game trying to just game the math on you and it’s like, "Does that mean the best team won? Or is this just poker where a team kept just pushing their chips at the table hoping they got lucky on the last card?" I don’t like this.
Kerr: I don’t know if you saw this the other night, but the Knicks 1988 team was honored at the Garden.
Simmons: The Pitino team.
Kerr: They were called the Bomb Squad and it was great. They had all the guys out there who were shooting 3s. Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland and Gerald Wilkins and they all get the ovation, and I saw the stat the next day that Steph Curry last year made more 3s than that entire team. And they were the Bomb Squad. So yeah, the game has changed so dramatically.
Simmons: You had Klay and Steph together shooting like 18 3s a game and making like 8.5, which is like Larry Bird in ’86, when I would’ve sworn he made 700 3s. And he made like 82.
Kerr: You know what’s amazing? I was a Laker fan growing and you were a Celtics fan, and so you think about those iconic matchups. Tremendous basketball and every once in a while you can catch one of those games [on cable]. You watch those games and it’s so different. The circumference of the floor — like where all the players were — was like this tiny circle that didn’t really go outside of the top of the key. And you watch a game today and the guys on the perimeter are spaced 10 to 12 feet further out. So back then it was post-ups, it was kind of constant movement and cutting and screening and now it’s high-screen-and-roll with five 3-point shooters spread around the floor.
Simmons: And the fast breaks, too. [On] fast breaks, now [players] just go to the corners.
Kerr: Oh yeah, you run to the 3-point line.
Simmons: I had the same reaction. I watched one of those games, and it was like watching hockey when one of the teams has the power play and everybody’s just crowding the net trying to get as close as possible. Dennis Johnson’s open from 18 feet. Nowadays that guy he would be 28 feet away.
Kerr: So defenses have had to become much more sophisticated. The rules have changed, too, which is a big deal. The old illegal-defense rule was so much different.
Simmons: What does Jordan do [if he were in the league] now? Does he shoot more 3s? Let’s put him in a time machine and he comes in now. He shoots like nine 3s a game.
Kerr: The fact [is] that you can zone up the strong side now defensively before the ball is thrown into the post. You can basically discourage any post-up play. You double-team before the guy even gets the ball, well it’s tough to throw it in there. That means the other team’s gotta put 3-point shooters on the other side of the floor to space you out so you can’t do that. The game has changed.
I think Michael would’ve shot a lot more 3s; he would’ve practiced a lot more 3s and he would’ve adapted. He also would’ve been fouled every play, because now a hand-check is a foul on the ball, so he would’ve probably had to run a lot more screen-and-roll and iso stuff. But they’re different games, totally different games.
Simmons: I think him and Pippen both would’ve had over 10 rebounds a game because there are no big guys out there anymore.
Kerr: Long rebounds, a lot of long rebounds.
Simmons: Long rebounds on the 3s. A lot of guards crashing in. And Westbrook, the triple-double would be semi-amazing if he got it but I still think the way the game’s played now [is different].
Kerr: Yeah, it’s different.
Simmons: It’s just the guards. He’s not going against [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parish and these guys.
Kerr: My whole thing as a coach, I just want open shots. I don’t keep track of how many 3s [we take]. I just want open shots and [if] we have 20 straight open 2s, I just want to take 20 2s, that’s fine.
I’m not into the math stuff, but I understand we have great 3-point shooters and we should space the floor and move and take a bunch of [3s]. That makes perfect sense.
Does Tom Brady Have the Same Fire Jordan Had?
Simmons: I have a really important question for you. Because the Super Bowl just happened …
Kerr: I noticed. Did you watch?
Simmons: I happened to watch. Never gave up because I had Tom Brady on my team. So a lot of the stuff that came out of that game especially from the teammates was like, "Tom wouldn’t let us lose. We have Tom Brady on my team. [There’s] no way I’m quitting." You looked in his eye. It was a lot of like the Jordan stuff from 20 years ago. Did it remind you of Jordan?
Kerr: I didn’t really think of it during the game, but I think we absolutely had that exact feeling that, "Michael’s on our team and we’re going to win." It was that he was that dominant, and I saw some of the quotes from the Patriots guys, it sounds like they have the same level of confidence in Brady.
Simmons: Well, right after the game, LeGarrette Blount goes to [Bill] Belichick and Brady and he’s like, "You’re the best coach ever and you’re the best fucking player ever." And I had a flashback after the Utah game when Jordan had the layup, the steal, and then the last shot, you came up to him and you’re like, "You’re the best fucking player ever." And they had to bleep it on ESPN classic.
Kerr: I am LeGarrette Blount. He and I share something.
Simmons: Yet again you guys are compared. But I feel like that was [Brady’s] Utah moment.
Kerr: I think something happens with guys when they break through and win a couple times. They’re in the spotlight, they become much more comfortable in the clutch once they’ve done it a couple times. It’s almost like, "What do I have to lose?" House money, however you want to put it. And that’s what I saw with Brady. His legacy was sealed anyway. If that had been his first Super Bowl, I’m not sure he would’ve been able to get into the zone like he did.
But that’s what is really elusive for a lot of great players. Can you get to the point where your talent and your mindset can blend together, and you can eliminate all the hysteria from social media and the fans and the overwhelming nature of what you’re doing? Can you eliminate all that stuff and just play and go back to when you were a 10-year-old kid and you just played for the beauty and the joy of it? That’s what it’s about, and when you see people do it at the very highest level like Jordan did, like Brady did, it’s like this different level of consciousness that is so awesome to watch.
Simmons: Is it fair to say LeBron was 90 percent there but not 100 percent last year? Like I still feel like he has one more notch he can go. I know that’s a tough question for you to answer. As a basketball fan, can I say that I feel he has one more notch left? You can just nod.
Kerr: You can say whatever you want.
Simmons: I’ll say it. Yeah, I’ll say it. Did you feel when you were going against them these last two years … is he just too different than Jordan as a player that it’s hard for you to compare them?
Kerr: Even LeBron says that he’s not Michael and he’s right. They’re very, very different players. The similarity is just the ability to take over a game with sheer force.
But I don’t see the same style. It’s very different in terms of the way they attack.
Kristaps Porzingis Is Kerr’s Favorite NBA Unicorn
Simmons: Who’s your favorite unicorn?
Kerr: Love Porzingis. I just got through saying I don’t like to talk about other players.
Simmons: No, this is fair. You’re a fan.
Kerr: This is just as a fan. I love watching him, just the length. The sheer length combined with shooting ability. But you’re seeing more and more of these guys now because of the way the game has changed and the way players have changed. [Karl-Anthony] Towns is out there shooting 3s, he can post up.
Simmons: I was watching JaVale McGee shoot 3s at your shootaround and making them.
Kerr: I’m not sure how I feel about that. But there’s this whole generation of players — even at the college level — [there are] 7-foot guys who 20 years ago would’ve been told by their coaches "go down to the block and practice your jump hook." They’re now out practicing their dribbling and their shooting. So they’re way more skilled. But they’re also less proficient in the low post. So that’s one of the reasons, too, that the game has spread out so much.
Simmons: That’s one thing I like about Al Horford, who I think you would’ve loved to coach. Just a smart guy. Right place, right spot all the time. But occasionally he’ll go down and he’ll do a nice little jump hook in somebody’s face from five feet [that] you don’t see anymore. It’s like this lost art.
Losing the Chargers Was Brutal
Simmons: I’ve got to ask you about the Chargers. Let’s talk about it.
Kerr: What a blow.
Simmons: Did you see it coming?
Kerr: I’ve lived in San Diego the last 12 years. That’s been our family home. I grew up in L.A. as a Rams fan. So the Rams leave for St. Louis [over] 20 years ago.
Simmons: So you’re just an orphan now?
Kerr: I’m an orphan. I didn’t really care about the Rams while they were in St. Louis. I’m kind of happy they’re back in L.A. I think they can recapture the fan base because there’s a generation that remembers them fondly back in the day with Lawrence McCutcheon and Harold Jackson. There’s a connection. The Chargers spent one year in L.A. This makes no sense and it’s devastating for San Diego.
Simmons: I was going to say: What do you think? What is San Diego now without the Chargers?
Kerr: It’s sad.
Simmons: I mean, other than the nicest place to live in America. I would say it’s like Fight Club. Nobody from San Diego wants anybody else to even know about San Diego.
Kerr: I’m really naive with this stuff but in my mind it’s like, "OK, if you can’t get the stadium built, the city won’t build it." How about just saying, "OK, I’m going to sell a portion of the team to somebody who promises to build their own stadium"? Let’s try that.
Simmons: "And then I’ll keep a piece. I’ll get the majority stake."
Kerr: And that’s where I’m naive. There’s an ego thing that goes with sports ownership, but to me, I think an owner owes it to the community to keep the team there at whatever cost. And if it means selling your majority share, keeping a minority share, you still get the suite. But the problem is you don’t get the camera shots [on TV]. You don’t get the ego stuff, and that’s what’s killer. Whether it’s the Sonics or the Chargers, especially these teams that have such a rich history and tradition and connection with the community and when they get ripped out of the community, it’s just brutal.
Simmons: Do you worry about that happening at all with the Warriors when they leave Oakland?
Kerr: I feel bad for the people of Oakland, but we’re not leaving the Bay Area. We get fans from all over the Bay. I think it’s a necessary move to advance our organization [and] it’s going to improve our standing. It’s going to improve our revenue. But we’re still right here in the Bay. To go to a game, if you’re living in the East Bay, you just get on BART, and it’s not that big of a deal. So I don’t equate this at all with a team packing up and leaving. We’re still right here, and I may not be here, by the way, so who the hell cares?
Kerr Can Always Go Back to TV, but Coaching Is Too Fun Right Now
Simmons: You have the TV cushion, it’s the best. You have the least amount of pressure of any coach because you can immediately go back to being an awesome TV person. You were great. I really miss you on games. That was a big loss for basketball fans.
Kerr: I loved it, I had so much fun. I did eight years with Turner [Sports].
Simmons: Then you had the fight with Marv [Albert] and they covered that up.
Kerr: And it all just fell apart from there.
Simmons: It was bad. You would’ve been great these last two seasons because every night there’s a great game. It’s unbelievable. Like Isaiah Thomas, what he’s doing now in Boston. It’s not even a top-10 story and every night he’s getting 40.
Kerr: It’s incredible. There’s so much great talent in the league right now. But I love coaching, I really do. I want to coach for a long time and I hope I’m able to, but I’m also well aware of how the league works and [how] things can change. But we have a great thing here, I love working with Bob Myers and Joe Lacob, and we’ve got a really strong, stable organization, so hopefully we can all be together for a long time.
Simmons: When do we see you start just putting your kids on the bench as assistant coaches? That’s the last stage for you, right? You win three more titles and then all of a sudden, Nick’s your lead assistant.
Kerr: There’s a three-title minimum to add a family member to the bench, I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.