The year was 1984. The Terminator said, “I’ll be back.” Prince and the Revolution told everyone what it was like “When Doves Cry.” A gallon of gas cost $1.13. And Steve Kerr’s college team lost more games than it won.
“Eleven and seventeen,” Kerr said as if it wasn’t 35 years ago.
When you’ve had the kind of run that he’s had — one where he’s only been on the wrong side of .500 one more time in those last 35 years — 11-17 sticks out.
Kerr, who also played for the 33-49 Cleveland Cavaliers in 1991, will almost assuredly suffer his first losing season since, with the Warriors in a bit of a gap year. After five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, they lost Kevin Durant in free agency and Klay Thompson to a knee injury. Then four games into this season, they lost Stephen Curry to a wrist injury. Starter Kevon Looney has also been limited to 10 games.
Thompson will be reevaluated at the All-Star break, though there’s little reason to rush him back from the knee injury he sustained last year in the Finals. Curry recently returned to the court to practice shooting, but he’s still a ways off. The organization seems content with the high lottery pick that’ll come in the draft if the losing continues.
It’s a smart plan under the circumstances, but that doesn’t make it an easy one — especially for someone such as Kerr, who has always managed to win as a player, executive and coach.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I just get really frustrated with the losing.”
It’s a new set of circumstances for Kerr, a student of Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, an eight-time NBA champion as a player and coach. It’s forced him to lean on two of his assistants — Ron Adams and former Lakers coach Mike Brown — for advice on how to handle losing in this kind of frequency.
“They’ve helped me just understand the priorities in a season like this,” Kerr said Friday morning. “It’s detail. It’s helping young players get better. It’s keeping perspective, keeping the ship afloat. Don’t let anyone get too down.
“We have a good energy in here — good culture and good karma. I think our guys enjoy coming to work, and that’s really important. We try to keep that, maintain that, along with the work we’re putting in … But it’s hard. We’ve got win one now and then just to make everybody feel better.”
Sometimes that frustration spills over. Kerr’s been called for five technical fouls this season. This last week, he was fined $25,000 for “verbally abusing an official” and failing to leave the court in a timely fashion after getting tossed.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything has been fantastic and we’re all jumping for joy — because losing sucks,” he said.
That doesn’t mean this season has been without benefits.
Some longtime staff members have expressed a sense of relief that they won’t be working into mid-June. One of the team’s beat writers will be able to finish planning an offseason wedding with a clear schedule. For an assistant coach like Jarron Collins, one who has interviewed for his first head-coaching job, working with a team in a rebuild, even if it’s a momentary one, fills an important void on his resume.
It’s a refresher for a team that’s been pushed to the brinks of mental and physical exhaustion over five seasons as the NBA’s best team.
“It’s funny, watching Steve, I think he’s having a great time,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I would rather have the championship expectations, if you want me to be honest. And I’m sure Steve would tell you the same.”
As the losses mount, hints of what made the Warriors so special are easy to see.
You can catch Thompson taking over as a sideline reporter one night. When the Warriors play well, it’s Curry on the sidelines cheering harder than anyone. Draymond Green, the one pillar of their championship teams on the court still standing, has earned amazing reviews for his professionalism and mentorship during this season.
“That’s kind of who we are, who our team has been for the last five years, in terms of taking joy out of a game and joy in each other’s accomplishments,” Kerr said. “So when you see Steph jumping around on the sidelines for one of these young guys doing something well, it’s a reminder that the foundation that’s been built is still there.”
In the meantime, the Warriors are doing the best with what they have, throwing minutes at young players while keeping an eye on how their first, second and third options now will look as seventh, eighth and ninth options next season.
“All these guys are going to have their moments. And they’re going to have their lows,” Kerr said. “And that’s good for them to feel that because that’s what the NBA is all about.”
Kerr’s fond of saying that the Warriors have been living an NBA fantasy — winning all the time, collecting championship rings and setting records. This season, undermanned and out-talented, is how it is for most of the teams.
Before this season, Kerr was just guessing.
“I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve lived a charmed life, for sure,” he said.
A short detour into the world the rest of the NBA resides inisn’t the worst thing — even if he’s sure it’s not the best, either.
“I still enjoy coming to work every day, working with the players, working with the staff and management. We have a great group of people here,” Kerr said. “Despite the losses, I’m still having fun. I think everybody is.”