Steve Kerr on the Warriors’ transition, Steph Curry’s burden and the Olympics

Yeah, this time it’s very different for the Warriors, for the players and especially for Steve Kerr, sitting at home and watching the best teams crash into each other on television.

Golden State has missed the playoffs three times in the past five seasons — wrapped around the 2022 championship run and last year’s loss in the second round — but last week’s splattering Play-In loss to the Sacramento Kings had a lot more finality to it than the other exits. It’s a different kind of time for the league, now full of young and dynamic teams, and it’s a very different time for the Warriors’ fraying dynasty.

The FOMO Warriors don’t want to make a habit of this. The Warriors also have a ton of work to do to make sure they don’t make a habit of this for the next five to 10 years.

“The two times that we missed the playoffs a few years ago almost felt like we weren’t missing out on anything, especially the first year, because that was the bubble,” Kerr told me on my podcast of the pandemic-altered postseason in 2020. “That was such a bizarre time. But even the next year when we barely missed out, won 15 of our last 20 and kind of found ourselves again (and lost in the Play-In), I think arenas were only half-full during that season. And it almost seemed like just the extended pandemic.

“This year there’s a terrible feeling of, man, we’re missing out. Playoffs are so fun. The energy in every arena is so incredible. To not be there really hurts. I’m watching. I can’t help but watch. But it stinks not being part of it.”

The deeper part of this, of course, is that Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are all several years older than they were in ’22 — and when their time passes, so will the Warriors’ greatest era. Plus, Klay is a pending free agent and might leave. And the Warriors’ season was in part derailed by Draymond’s two early-season suspensions, which only underlined the chaos almost always involved with his career.

This thing is on the precipice and pointing in the opposite of “up.” There were some very positive things about this season, mostly involving the development of young players Jonathan Kuminga, Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis and the 27-12 regular-season finish that at least kept the Warriors in the conversation. There are ways for Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Joe Lacob to improve the roster this summer, even while cutting back from the league-record $400 million payroll commitment this season.

But Kerr, who was on three Chicago Bulls title-winners, including the 1998 team that won and then immediately was broken up, and then also won titles as an early part of the San Antonio Spurs’ run, isn’t denying that the Warriors have to be thinking about how this all finishes up.

“There’s no recipe for how to end it,” Kerr said. “These things all end however they end. In the Bulls’ case it was, ‘Alright, everybody’s a free agent, see ya later.’ And it was over. In San Antonio’s case, they found a way to revive it, win another title, and then guys ended up retiring and they’ve been in a situation where they haven’t been in the playoffs for a few years. So you can describe it however you want.

“I think what’s important to me is that our guys do it the right way, with dignity, with grace. And I understand that we haven’t always done that. Like, there’s been moments where with Draymond, the incident with Jordan (Poole) last year. That’s not dignified, obviously. The stuff that happened early in this season, that’s not. … So part of my conversations with Draymond were: ‘You owe it to yourself but also to the franchise to do this the right way. To go out competing as best you can, be the best version of yourself, lead the younger guys, teach them what being a pro is about.’ And he responded beautifully. The whole second half of the season I thought he was amazing, I thought he played well, I thought he handled himself well. Took on the leadership role. It was fun to watch.

“You could say, ‘You didn’t make the playoffs.’ Yeah, we didn’t. And that’s part of it. But I’m really proud of the way Draymond and Klay (briefly accepting a bench role) handled themselves in the second half. Proud of the team for making the push that we did. But this is the reality of Father Time catching up and this is the way pro sports works. Whether it’s the end of our run or whether we have a little bit of time left, which we’re hoping, we are where we are and not much is going to change that.”

Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry


“There’s no recipe for how to end it,” Steve Kerr says of the looming end of the Warriors’ dynasty. “These things all end however they end.” (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

So what do the Warriors do this summer, with all these inevitable forces in play? Practically, they weren’t a terrible team — as Kerr has said repeatedly, in a normal season, their 46-36 finish would have put them in the postseason outright. If they opened the playoffs with the kind of clunker they played in Sacramento, they’d be down 0-1, not feeling great, but also determined to grind through another long series.

The problem is that the Western Conference is loaded with much younger, very talented teams, including San Antonio, Memphis and Houston, which all finished behind the Warriors this season and seem destined for top-eight placings very soon. To stave off the steepest of declines, the Warriors have a very clear goal: Make things less difficult for the 36-year-old Curry, who had another great season but clearly tired late and just can’t carry the entire offensive load deep into his 30s.

“For the second year in a row, we put way too much on Steph’s shoulders trying to figure out ways to score,” Kerr said. “We put too much burden on him not only having to score but having to handle the ball against that pressure you’re talking about. … In that Play-In game, our susceptibility to pressure definitely hurt us. And those are some of the things I’m really examining and hoping to fix in the offseason.”

Kerr noted how difficult it is to defend teams that deploy five shooters spread across the floor. For instance, Boston destroyed the Warriors when Kerr decided they had to gamble by leaving Jaylen Brown unguarded at the 3-point line so they could load up elsewhere. The Warriors are famous for helping create the 3-point revolution, but they now find themselves out of step with it. The Warriors already have Draymond, who shot the 3 very well this season but also isn’t guarded out there. When they play Jackson-Davis at center, that makes two guys that opponents don’t guard closely on the perimeter. Which clogs up everything and allows teams to put multiple defenders on Curry, even when he doesn’t have the ball.

“Where we are right now, we’re a little bit betwixt and between offensively,” Kerr said. “(Even though) we have two of the great shooters on earth in Steph and Klay, we’re very top-heavy in that regard on the shooting front. That’s where I think Mike and I are going to really talk this summer about how (we can) balance out our shooting. Can we get more shooting on the frontline? Can our current players get better with that stuff? And can we put together lineups that make the game easier for Steph?”

There are some unspoken conclusions here, including: Klay’s not at the point in his career where he can be counted on to be a No. 2 scorer supplementing Curry. If Klay re-signs with the Warriors, it’ll likely be as a sixth man who is more like a No. 3 or 4 option. And the Warriors simply can’t count on Andrew Wiggins as a top-line player.

Jonathan Kuminga


As the Warriors search for scoring help for Stephen Curry, Kerr says Jonathan Kuminga “is someone who definitely has that potential.” (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Could Kuminga turn into that kind of second scorer?

“He is someone who definitely has that potential,” Kerr said. “I think he needs to have a similar leap next year to the one he had this year. I thought this year he really played well. The game started to slow down for him. But there’s certain areas where if you’re going to be that No. 2 guy, you have to be proficient. I think his catch-and-shoot game has to get better.

“I think to be a really productive player in the league these days you’ve gotta be able to stretch the floor and have teams respect you. Because part of being a No. 2 is creating plays. It’s not just scoring. But it’s being a shot creator. And right now, teams aren’t really getting out to challenge JK at the 3-point line. They know he can make them, but they’re willing to give them up. And with that being the case, teams are packing the paint.

“That’s why it’s really hard to play him at the 3. … We really love Trayce at the 5 and what he can do for us. But if Draymond’s at the 4, that limits what we can do with JK. Because to me offensively he’s still very much a 4. Can he become a 3? Yes. But he’s gotta extend the range, become more comfortable shooting that 3-point shot. And then also improve his passing and playmaking. I think he’s a capable playmaker, but fundamentally he’s gotta improve the passing, and that’s something we’ll be working hard on this summer.”

The Warriors will try to find a big man who can shoot the 3 to add into the frontcourt rotation with Draymond, TJD and Kuminga. They’ll likely have to find a backup point guard to replace Chris Paul, presuming they won’t guarantee his $30 million contract for next season and he won’t come back for less than that. They’ll have to figure out the Klay situation. They’ve got to find more minutes for Moses Moody. Even if they slash the payroll, the Warriors almost certainly won’t have enough room to sign a top-dollar player.

No, that doesn’t feel like the origin story of this era’s fifth championship run. But it doesn’t have to be a debacle, either. They were good enough this season, specifically from late January on, to feel OK about themselves. They aren’t going to blow it up. They’ve got to switch up some things, but not everything. And then they’ll see what it feels like a year from now.

“I think we need to hang onto that and recognize that, hey, we were pretty good the second half,” Kerr said. “We were one of the top teams in the league. But also understand there’s a reason we were as flawed the first half of the season. And it wasn’t just Draymond’s suspension. There were some holes that we need to fill.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a combination of yes I think we can still be good, but the rest of the league has done some things, the rest of the conference is loaded. In order to compete, we do need some change. We need to adapt and adjust a little bit.”

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Here are some other highlights from our conversation …

• Kerr has said a few times that he holds himself accountable for a lot of the early struggles this season. So I asked: What specifically could you have done better as a coach?

“There was a stretch of games where we lost really close games down the stretch, games that we had in our grasp,” Kerr said. “There’s some coaching decisions that I would probably change up if I could. I will say that probably is the case pretty much every year. It’s funny I’m reading stories about Sacramento and the L.A. Lakers. The stories are the same about those teams. I think Harrison Barnes was lamenting some of the games the Kings lost this year. … He’s saying the same things I’m saying. Every team has games that they lose that they look back on.

“But when it really hurts you, you just pick it apart. We lost two games to (Oklahoma City) where our 3-point defense failed us. So for me as a coach, it was, like, we needed to be better. And that’s on me. We’ve gotta go over that stuff more. We’ve gotta make sure we have the right coverage in place. Those are things that as a coach they eat at you but especially at the end of the year when they come back to bite you.”

• What are the details of how the Warriors can adjust their offense? Possibly a bit of a move away from the motion offense that Kerr installed 10 years ago and helped lead to all those victories and titles?

“To me, it’s more about making the game easier for the players within our actions,” Kerr said. “We’ve always had kind of a read-and-react motion style that for many years was obviously lethal. The last couple years, we’ve kind of been a little bit stuck in-between. We ran more pick-and-rolls this year than we have in a long time. And our pick-and-roll game is effective. But without the spacing that a team like Boston or OKC has with all of the shooters, you really do need to generate offense through passing and movement and cutting. And I think there’s a way to make that movement easier on the younger players and the guys who maybe haven’t felt as comfortable within the stuff we’ve been doing the last couple years.

“I’m not talking about a complete overhaul. I’m really talking more about simplifying things and finding better ways to teach those actions we are gonna run.”

• Kerr was very open and somewhat emotional speaking at his end-of-season presser about the constant cost-benefit relationship he and the Warriors have with Draymond and concluded it by saying how much he loves Draymond and what a good person he is. I asked Kerr if he planned all of that or if it just came out spontaneously.

“Draymond and I are a lot alike in many ways and people probably wouldn’t guess that,” Kerr said. “But one of the ways we’re alike is we kinda speak our mind in these media sessions and podcasts or whatever. I don’t really hold back. And I think Draymond appreciates that. So I don’t think he has any problem with me being so open about our relationship but also the positives and the negatives that he has brought in his time. The overriding message from me in that press conference was that without Draymond none of this happens. We don’t have a single championship. I really believe that.

“But on top of that, it’s not just the winning. I just believe in him as a human being. I think he’s a wonderful person. He’s so passionate, and he’s so competitive, and he cares so much that it gets him into trouble sometimes and he crosses the line. But I love the guy. I love what he brings. I love how much he cares. And I want to help him. …

“He’s worth it on and off the court for me. I think that’s why I got a little emotional and revealed what I did in that press conference. We do hear a lot from our fans. And I know that people get frustrated with him with everything. And I get it. I just want people to understand how special of a guy Draymond is.”

Draymond Green


“Without Draymond none of this happens,” Steve Kerr says of the Warriors’ success. “We don’t have a single championship. I really believe that.” (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

There is absolutely a very practical part of this, too.

“He also knows if he’s not worth it to us, we are going to move on from him,” Kerr said. “Even as much as we love him and as much as we’ve been through, because … this is what I explain to the team all the time, this is professional sports. You have to be valuable. You have to be your own best asset, to make yourself valuable to the rest of the league. When you have that but you have people who are really emotionally invested and care about winning and care about each other, then that’s how you win. And Draymond’s been a big part of that despite the mistakes he’s made.”

• I asked Kerr if Draymond’s calmer approach in the second half of this season meant that he yelled at Kerr less.

“I would say our last three or four years, we’ve probably had some kind of a truce, I guess you could call it,” Kerr said. “The first six years, they were really animated. Every year we would get into it. Screaming matches. But there was always an underlying respect and loyalty to each other. But over the last few years, I think we’ve both mellowed a little bit in terms of the way we’ve treated each other, the way we’ve handled situations. He’s gotten older, I’ve gotten older. His position on the team is different. He has been one of the leaders, whereas my first few years, he was one of the young guys. And that changes relationships, too.”

• Another big Warriors’ area of weakness this season: They didn’t have enough perimeter defenders who didn’t need constant help. Why did the Warriors seem to give up so many open 3-pointers in the corner? It’s because the guy defending the ball often got beat off the dribble pretty easily, which triggered help-side defense, which left shooters wide open in the corners.

“We need point-of-attack defense; we just do,” Kerr said. “You could see it in the Sacramento game. They were able to put a lot more pressure on us with (Davion) Mitchell and (De’Aaron) Fox and (Keon) Ellis. We have to do a better job at the point of attack, not only containing penetration but really pestering people. Gary (Payton II) does a great job of that, that’s one of his big values to the team, but he’s been injured quite a bit and we haven’t had a consistent ball-pressure guy. Wiggs can do it as well, and I thought for the most part, especially in the second half of the year, I thought he did a nice job defensively.”

• Kerr has a major event coming up this summer, of course. He’s coaching Team USA in the Paris Olympics with an absolutely loaded roster led by Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and many other major stars.

“It’s an incredible roster,” Kerr said. “It’s going to be so much fun to coach the team with Mark Few and (Erik Spoelstra) and Ty Lue. Couldn’t be more excited. It does remind you a little bit of the Dream Team in ’92, but what’s different is everybody else is good now. I mean, ’92, Chuck Daly didn’t even have to take a timeout, they won every game by 20, 30, 40, 50 points. It’s different now. Everybody’s loaded. There’s some great teams out there. This is not going to be easy despite the names on our roster. But if we can get our guys to play together and compete together and sacrifice for each other and bring their best stuff, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

• The chance to coach Curry in the Olympics, Kerr said, is very special.

“He brings so much to a team,” Kerr said. “Obviously, the stuff on the court. But I think he’s gonna help the chemistry and get everybody to understand the commitment that this is gonna require. If you think about it, if we play nine people, there’s three Hall of Famers now who aren’t gonna play in a game. That is unique and different and potentially damaging if the guys don’t handle it the right way. So you need everybody on board emotionally spiritually, physically. In my experience, you need everybody eventually. But it requires a lot of commitment to each other to be successful in these environments.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

‘He’s so human’: Steve Kerr goes deep on Draymond Green and the Warriors’ unsettled future

(Photo of Steve Kerr, during the Warriors’ Play-In Tournament loss to the Kings: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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