Coaches speak for theatrical effect – most of the time. Coaches lie when they need the lie to seem truthy – most of the time. Coaches aren’t speaking to you when they talk to the media, but for a different audience, whether it be the players, the league office or the gods themselves.
Again, most of the time.
But Steve Kerr’s decision to flog the Golden State Warriors both privately and publicly for their effort in a 126-106 loss at Indiana Thursday night is an interesting one because it suggests that he doesn’t believe they can turn their brilliance on and off as they once did, while they still do. And this is the kind of disconnect that can eat at a team, both short-term and long.
The matter of consistent effort has been a subtext to this entire season – not quite the daily talker that the injury list has been, but bigger than the carping about the officials and in any event a consistent theme throughout the season.
But Kerr aired them out in Game 79, after getting throttled by a team whose own playoff position is pretty much decided (the Pacers are fifth, two games behind Cleveland and 1½ behind Philadelphia with three games left, one of them at Toronto tonight). And Kerr, who is by nature more of a worry wart than he lets on, spoke as a man who believes that a lack of natural urgency corrodes a team’s ability to manufacture it when needed.
And the players believe just the opposite, and that they will be as they have been once Curry returns, and once Draymond Green’s panoply of injuries finally heal, and once Andre Iguodala shaves three years off his birth certificate. At that point, the playoffs will fall like a ripe fruit, and the natural order of things will be restored.
Nobody can say who is right because the playoff overture has not even begun. The Warriors don’t even know who they will play in the first round, though they might not care about that, either.
The Warriors’ ascendance has been nearly trouble-free, and one made basket in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals would give them the dynast-ette people have been trying to grant them.
But bad luck is finally part of their reality, and Kerr’s attempts to make them see the need to overcome it through consistent effort and exertion seem to fail as often as they succeed.
As a result of the injuries and their occasionally tepid responses to them, their fall from being presumptive sure-things to crush the field to a superb team among other superb teams to “gee, maybe they won’t even get to the Finals at all” has been a precipitous one -- one which nobody within the team or outside it has been swift to comprehend.
Maybe this is all a matter of everyone being a bit jaded about this winning thing and failing to remember how hard it was to get to warp speed in the first place. For that matter, maybe this is just a by-product of the essential truth of the 82-game season – that once you know where you fall in the playoff picture, the season gets very long and tedious and occasionally not even worth the bother.
But it also speaks to how the players’ view of their place in the basketball universe diverges from Kerr’s. He sees ways this merry ride can all go south because coaches are required to see the glass not only half-full but half-full of spit, while the players see only a world in which they are always kings, or will be once Curry returns.
The last three regular season games against New Orleans, Phoenix and Utah will not change this dynamic, clearly. But starting April 11, we will find out if Kerr’s tempestuous fretting about effort was just that, tempestuous fretting, or a symptom of a Warrior team that assumed championships just show up on the porch rather than things to be fought for and seized, despite their veteran status and championship experience. Or maybe they won’t win because they were never healthy enough to be who they claimed to be.
All scenarios are possible, both happy and dire ones, which is worth noting because three months ago the only scenario was another parade for a team used to having them.