Steve Kerr was not surprised when Kevin Durant, upon gaining free agency on June 30, left the Warriors. The coach, like everybody on the payroll, had spent nine months bracing for that.
He wasn’t prepared for what happened a few hours later. The team reached an agreement to trade forward/guard Andre Iguodala to Memphis.
“That was a complete gut punch,” Kerr said Tuesday on The Warriors Insider Podcast.
“I’m not going to lie. That was probably the most ... not even probably -- that was the most painful loss, in terms of a personnel move, that I’ve felt as a coach in my five years.”
Kerr’s trust in Iguodala was deep enough that, in some whispered circles, he was considered the coach’s “pet.” Kerr and Iguodala, University of Arizona products roughly 20 years apart, seemed to be members of their own secret society. There was a telepathy.
“Guys in this profession come and go pretty quickly. It’s a very fluid business,” Kerr said. “But for what Andre has meant to not only our team but to me personally, as a coach, for accepting his role, for mentoring younger players, for monitoring the bench and keeping everything going -- the respect that the stars had for him combined with his mentoring of the younger players -- Andre was the unsung hero of all of this.
"For him to move on was just devastating for me.”
Iguodala, 35, spent six years with the Warriors, going to the playoffs every season, reaching The Finals in the last five seasons, three of which ended in championships.
A first-round pick by the 76ers in 2004, Iguodala was an instant starter in Philadelphia and remained a starter when he was traded to the Nuggets in 2012. He came to the Warriors via a sign-and-trade deal in July 2013 and was installed in the starting lineup by coach Mark Jackson.
Kerr replaced Jackson the following season and persuaded Iguodala to become the team’s Sixth Man, a role he filled the entire regular season and through the first three rounds of the postseason. With the Warriors losing two of the first three games in The Finals against the Cavaliers, Iguodala was reinserted into the starting lineup for Game 4.
The Warriors evened the series. Iguodala started Games 5 and 6, taking the series, with Iguodala voted Finals MVP.
“Andre really embodied everything that I tried to teach to our players in terms of the culture, the unselfishness, the sacrifice,” Kerr said. “He set the example in Year 1 by agreeing to come off the bench. He’s a guy who has been able to relate to everybody, play any role we’ve asked him to play.”
Iguodala had one season remaining on his contract, and Kerr hoped he would spend it playing at Chase Center. But other factors intervened. First, there was Klay Thompson’s ACL injury in The Finals that will sideline him most of next season. Then, there was Durant’s departure. The Warriors as they had been for three seasons were no more.
This was a perfectly convenient time for general manager Bob Myers and his staff to engineer a rebuild that would provide an infusion of youth, including the key acquisition of combo guard D’Angelo Russell, who represented the Nets in the 2019 All-Star Game.
“This is why it’s not smart to be coach and GM at the same time,” Kerr said. “If you have both jobs, it’s been proven to be incredibly difficult. A coach looks at next year. A GM has to look at five years down the road.
“I have the ultimate faith in Bob [Myers] and his staff. If you just look at it on paper, we went from a 35-year-old star player who’s got a year or two left to a 23-year-old talent who has a long career ahead of him. That makes perfect sense. I’m not ever going to argue with that. And I agree in the long term that it’s a good move.
“But having said that, just on a personal level, that one will sting for a long time.”