Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
So far this postseason, the Warriors storylines have read that the team has won on the backs of Kevin Durant's early explosion, Steph Curry and Draymond Green's brilliance when Durant went down, the defensive masterpieces of Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, and the unexpected rise of a much-maligned bench. But now it is time to give Steve Kerr some credit.
You could argue that this postseason has been Kerr's most impressive coaching job yet. After dealing with his most dramatic and tumultuous regular season since taking over the team, Kerr was forced to rethink the Warriors strategy after they were dealt a blow very early in the playoffs with the loss of DeMarcus Cousins. Turning back the clock to what made the Warriors so successful before Cousins arrived was not overly challenging, but dealing with the loss of Durant amidst a series against one of the toughest opponents the Warriors have faced in Houston could have been catastrophic. The bench had been under-performing throughout the playoffs and had to rely upon all of the sudden. This is exactly where Kerr's coaching shined.
Often the biggest criticism of Kerr's coaching style is his insistence on getting the ball into the hands of every player on the roster, sometimes at the expense of production from the stars. He had been a role-player for most of his career, knowing full well how important it is for all players to feel involved and important. The insistence paid off in a time of need. The depth of the team was comfortable and ready when called upon. Throughout the season they had been used in stressful situations, much to the chagrin of couch coaches. Kerr pushed all the right buttons, leading the team to a six-game winning streak since Durant went down.
Just the other day, Paul Pierce on ESPN was saying that he considered Kerr a top-five coach of all-time. While I do believe it is too early to make such a declaration, considering this is only Kerr's fifth season as a head coach, I do think it is reasonable to say he is on the path to that recognition. The big picture look at Kerr's career is historically impressive.
The Warriors have made the finals in five consecutive seasons since Kerr became the Head Coach. That in itself can tell the whole story. But now add in that the Warriors have a 78.5 winning percentage in the regular season under Kerr, and even more incredibly, a 75.7 percentage in the postseason. The team has lost one playoff series in five years under Kerr (albeit a pretty big one). The push back that Pierce received, and many others give, when deciding Kerr's greatness in history seems to always point to the notion that he inherited a team with Hall of Fame talent, and that any good coach could make them champions. This notion is simply naive.
When Kerr took over the Warriors, they were on the path to being a great team. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had become household names, but nowhere near their current star power. Andre Iguodala was no longer the star he once was in his Sixers years, and David Lee, alongside Andrew Bogut and a young Harrison Barnes were the other most notable Warriors. The team had made some noise in the playoffs but were not ready to be a real contender. Once Kerr became head coach, it all changed. Curry and Thompson had their skills fully realized under Kerr's strategy and leadership, and Draymond Green emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
The Warriors immediately jumped from a good team to a historic team, revolutionizing the game to what the NBA looks like today across the league. Sure, Steve Kerr inherited the parts, but he assembled the pieces into something invaluable. Let's also not forget that Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Greg Popovich and other all-time great coaches inherited and developed talent like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, etc.
Since taking over, Kerr's system has become ingrained into the way Curry, Klay, Draymond, and Iguodala play the game. When Luke Walton and Mike Brown manned the ship during the stints in which Kerr dealt with a debilitating back injury, the team rolled along through Kerr's already adopted strategy and infrastructure. It is not a detractor against Kerr that his assistant coaches were able to maintain the incredible success of the team while he was out, in fact, it should further his great reputation. The best leader creates a system that can survive and run seamlessly through the subjects he or she enables, with or without constant guidance.
And he did exactly that.
Bringing in Durant to the Warriors was not only a credit to the character of the team's top stars and their unselfish motivations but also the welcoming and fun environment created by Steve Kerr and the front office. Players wanted to come to Oakland to win and to truly enjoy themselves while doing it. The Warriors did not have that same glow before Kerr. While the Warriors stars are well-known for their unselfishness, it would be ignorant to assume that Kerr has not had to manage ego's and confrontational, fiery personalities. And he has managed them to three, possibly four titles.
It is yet to be seen how the Warriors will fare in the Finals and what the team will look like next season. But with Steve Kerr in command, they are in historically good hands.