With the departure of Steve Nash 11 days ago draining considerable basketball insight from the Warriors, coach Steve Kerr knew he’d need to refill. It didn’t take long, nor did he have to look very far.
In hiring former Warriors guard Leandro Barbosa on Monday, Kerr raided the same tree from which he plucked Nash. Both are longtime friends and associates with shared experiences. Kerr simply replaced one affable and knowledgeable high-character individual with another.
It’s a smart, safe move. The notion to hire Barbosa, floated more than a year ago, couldn’t be finalized until his retirement from the NBA, which was official on Monday. With Nash leaving to become head coach of the Nets, the deal was closed. As the Warriors prepare for an influx of youth over the next several years, the addition of Barbosa could yield significant rewards.
“I’m excited to add him to the staff and to see him help mentor out young players, and still be out on the floor with them, which is a big deal,” Kerr said in video released by the team. “We need younger coaches, too, guys who can compete against our players and scrimmage with them when necessary. LB will be able to add that and much more.”
You read that right. Barbosa, 37, will be sweating and grunting with Warriors, some of whom are former teammates while others are young enough to be sons.
“I’m capable,” he said during a conference call Monday. “I’m still in shape.”
Known for fitness and quickness, Barbosa spent the last two seasons playing in the Brazilian league. A starting guard for Minas Tenis Clube last season, he was leading the league in scoring, averaging 20.1 points per game before the season was halted due to COVID-19.
Whereas Nash was a part-time consultant with the Warriors, typically spending a few days each month with the team, Barbosa will have a much bigger role. He is stepping into the newly created position of “player mentor coach,” and will be a full-time member of the staff.
Barbosa will attend games, joining player development coaches sitting in chairs behind the primary staff. It’s a position Barbosa knew he wanted once his playing career was over.
“I text messaged back and forth with Steve; I’ve always been talking to him,” he said. “He's been my coach when I was here, but he also was my friend. We had a really close relationship when he was a GM for the Phoenix Suns.
“Every once in a while, we used to talk, and he mentioned to me what I want to do after I play, and I always told him that I wanted to be an assistant coach, not a head coach, but be able to talk to the players.”
It’s reasonable to expect that, in addition to bringing energy and savvy, Barbosa also will dispense some of the wisdom gleaned from Nash. They were teammates for six seasons in Phoenix, with Barbosa often playing behind the two-time MVP and, in 2006-07, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award.
“I learned a lot of things from that guy, inside the court and outside the court,” Barbosa said of Nash. “Half of my game is because of him. I can tell you, to get this position, this opportunity, I’m sure that I will teach the boys what I learned from him.”
Precisely as Kerr would expect. And as the Warriors would want.