OAKLAND -- Draymond Green was the first to say it, in 2015, as the Warriors were rolling to a 24-0 record that turned into 39-4. Luke Walton was coaching, and the players loved it. They also yearned for the presence of Steve Kerr.
Green, in the simplest of terms, explained why.
“He always knows,” he said of Kerr, “the right thing to say.”
Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. Kerr lately has been saying the right things about NBA officiating. Since being ejected last Monday for unleashing a torrent of loud and pointed criticisms toward fifth-year referee Ben Taylor -- an outburst punctuated by Kerr uttering the phrase “I don’t want to be here anyway” -- the coach has been raining gallons of flattery on the league’s officials.
He did it after a preseason loss to the Lakers on Wednesday in Las Vegas, did it to a lesser degree after another loss to the Lakers on Friday night in San Jose, and then reached for a generous shower of love Sunday after practice.
Kerr was asked if he was concerned that Stephen Curry might be suspended for opening night for having stepped onto the floor Friday during a brief quarrel between teammate Draymond Green and Lakers forward Michael Beasley.
“If this were 15 years ago, Steph would not have been allowed at Oracle on ring night -- because he stepped on the floor. So did DeMarcus,” Kerr said. “Fortunately, we have a different interpretation of the rule now. We’re lucky he got away with it, and DeMarcus too. I like the new interpretation. I don’t think it should be ‘You take one step on the floor, and you’re suspended.’
“But we’ve got to be more careful, too. We can’t mess around and risk a suspension. So we’ve got to be better as a coaching staff -- and even the players on the end of the bench need to hold each other back when they see somebody running out there. We’ve just got to be sharper with that.”
Such appreciation for the sound judgment of officials and the NBA office, and such profound accountability for the negligence of the Warriors. You guys are getting it right. We’re the ones that have to be better.
Brilliant. Kerr is exercising his considerable intellect. He’s playing the long game.
Kerr knows the Warriors have developed a reputation for yapping and griping about officiating. He knows there are new “points of education,” aka “points of emphasis.” The coach also knows his offense is designed around plentiful movement by players and the ball, an effort to generate what he describes as “flow.”
That most assuredly was his message to the officials last Wednesday in Vegas. Kevin Durant fouled out in 24 minutes. Jonas Jerebko was whistled five times in 14 minutes, Damian Jones four times in 17 minutes. The Warriors were stung for 38 fouls, leading to 46 Los Angeles free throws. The Lakers totaled 27 fouls, with the Warriors getting 36 shots from the line.
“I’m pretty confident that they’re not going to call 65 fouls and foul Kevin Durant out in 24 minutes when the regular season starts,” Kerr said after that game. “I’m pretty confident in that. And if they do, then we’ve got to talk.
“We have to understand what basketball is about. Officiating is an art form. There’s a flow to the game that has to happen. And right now, we’re putting the officials in a really tough spot because we’re having them call everything. I know it’s preseason. We’re trying to make sure we have these points of emphasis. But there’s got to be some flow to the game. There’s got to be some pace. That’s what people come out to see. And that’s what makes the game beautiful.
“I’m very confident that we’ll see that sorted that out. The league always does a great job of making sure the pace and the flow of the game is good.”
Officiating is an art form should be amended to “officiating should be an art form.” But Kerr doesn’t want to leave room for any potential negative interpretation. Too much is at stake.
Saying the right thing, at the right time, hoping it reaches the ears of the right people is a Kerr asset, as Green noted. More to the point, buttering up officials and the league office is a wise way to approach the regular season.