SAN DIEGO – The Warriors had wrapped up after more than two hours of practice Monday afternoon when Steve Kerr ambled over to chat.
Less than three weeks into a leave of absence taken to recuperate from two back surgeries, the coach is not ready to jog or hop.
His team has to brace itself for the increasing probability that when the regular season begins on Oct. 27, Kerr will not be on the bench.
That he has been around for at least parts of this road trip is an encouraging sign. But he has not been on the bench for any of the team’s five preseason games.
The recovery is coming along, Kerr said, but he offered no specifics and steered away from anything remotely resembling a projection for his return. With opening night only eight days away, it’s reasonable to consider this a warning.
“He still doesn’t know,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “He’s not going to force it. There’s no timetable, still.”
It’s safe to assume Kerr, entering his second season as a coach, will not be wielding a clipboard when the Warriors conclude the preseason schedule with games against the Clippers on Tuesday night in Los Angeles and against the Lakers on Thursday in Anaheim.
It’s significant if the coach who last season presided over a franchise-record 67 wins before coaxing the first Warriors championship in 40 years is unable to perform his duties minutes after the presenting of rings and unveiling of the banner.
It’s hard to imagine the Warriors can operate as smoothly as they did under Kerr, who despite his 28 years in various NBA capacities – player, executive, broadcaster – was wise enough as a rookie coach to hire as his top assistant the highly regarded and well-seasoned Alvin Gentry.
Walton, 35, has no Gentry, who last season was responsible for formulating offensive tactics and strategies that Kerr held the option to tweak.
Little more than a month after Gentry was hired as head coach in New Orleans in June, Kerr opted not to bring in another veteran coach. Though Ron Adams remains on staff, primarily as the defensive guru who specializes in individual assessment, Kerr promoted Walton as Gentry’s replacement.
The promotion came prior to knowing the severity of the issues that would plague Kerr after his first surgery, and long before he realized a second procedure would be necessary.
Now, suddenly, Walton is on the spot, spot that may get bigger and brighter very soon. He seems to be preparing himself for the job in the regular season. He has, by his own estimation, come a long way in less than three weeks.
“It’s night and day,” Walton said. “Obviously, the preference is we have Steve coaching (next) Tuesday night. But after the last couple weeks, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now.”
“If you told me two weeks ago that Steve was out, no matter what, for the first regular-season game I probably would not have slept much. But I feel fine, and confident doing what’s required next week.”
And, yet, there is legitimate reason to wonder if Walton, 17 months into his NBA coaching career and 15 years younger than Kerr, can bring the proper institutional knowledge and gravity to the role.
“We all respect Luke. We all really enjoy playing for him. He’s got a great mind for the game; you saw it when he played,” Klay Thompson said. “And it’s easy to see when he coaches.”
Walton is, by all accounts, a quick learner. He was born with basketball in his blood. He has played for some of finest coaches ever to squat on a sideline. There is no sign he cannot do what may be asked.
The Warriors hope they don’t have to ask, and Walton is hoping for the same thing.