OAKLAND — Steve Kerr’s health-related absence will extend into the second round and, potentially, beyond. So Mike Brown will coach the Warriors in Game 1 on Tuesday night against the Jazz, which means the spotlight and attention surrounding Mike Brown will only enhance.
The circumstances aren’t ideal, but, for any assistant aspiring to climb the coaching ladder, you can’t sculpt a more perfect opportunity. Challenges await, but Brown’s been handed the keys to a Death Star of basketball talent. Don’t steer it off course — just guide this mostly self-sufficient, focused group of veterans to a destination it’s already barreling toward — and get rewarded with both recognition and a resumé jolt just before open season arrives on the head coaching market.
This is a situation that might breed contempt within a coaching staff — whether it’s jealously from the assistants who weren’t promoted to the top spot or paranoia from the elevated staffer. The Warriors’ last coaching regime, around Mark Jackson, became embattled after some publicized in-fighting. But this current Warriors staff has maintained a supportive environment despite being thrust into this atypical situation for a second straight season.
“It helps to have people that aren’t resentful, are all about the team — meaning the team of coaches, the players, the organization — instead of their own pursuit of their own career,” Bob Myers, their boss, said. “That (natural individual concern) is pretty commonplace. To have a group of people who row in the other direction is pretty cool.”
You’re Ron Adams. You became an NBA assistant in 1992. You’ve been a part of seven different franchises. You’ve long been considered one of the league’s sharpest defensive minds and top assistants. But earlier in your career, you were passed over for head coaching gigs you wanted. At age 67, you join the Warriors’ staff.
A year later, Steve Kerr is forced to miss the start of the season. In his place, your franchise elevates 35-year-old Luke Walton, who was 12 when you started as an NBA assistant in San Antonio and has been a coach all of one season before finding himself in the top slot. Maybe you’re resentful. Maybe it represents an unfair side of the business.
But then you wouldn’t be Ron Adams, who feels and emotes none of that.
“At times in your career, when you had more of a desire to be a head coach and it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out,” Adams said. “There are a lot of people who have not had that opportunity. But you still have to carve out your place and hopefully you’re constructive in what you bring to a program.”
A scene from this past Saturday may sum Adams up best. After the Warriors’ morning practice, Mike Brown met with a growing pack of reporters for the fourth time this week, his words and jokes and theories suddenly flowing into living rooms across the country.
About 100 feet away, through that throng of cameras, Adams stood out of the spotlight, gathered with a few support staffers and rookie center Damian Jones — who likely won’t play a meaningful postseason minute this year — spending his Saturday afternoon instructing the 21-year-old about screen-setting and post moves.
“He probably considers himself a teacher more than a coach,” Myers said of Adams.
“There are no misconceptions about who should be doing what,” Adams said. “The seat that Mike sits in prior to Steve leaving is the seat you step in if we do have a crisis. It’s for someone who is young and is going to do that moving forward. Whereas I am not in that position from a career standpoint.”
You’re Jarron Collins. You’re 38. You retired from the NBA in 2011 and joined the Warriors staff in 2014, the same year as Luke Walton. You saw what last year’s opportunity did for Walton. He’s the head coach of the Lakers now, at age 37.
You have similar goals and, when Walton left for Los Angeles, an opening at lead assistant opened. What a golden opportunity. But they opted for more experience and went instead with Mike Brown. Does that create any jealousy, knowing what that missed promotion back then would’ve led to right now?
No, Collins says.
“It’s not our culture,” Collins said. “It’s not what’s been established by Steve…We all do player development. We all do scouts. We all have input. It’s collaborative.”
On that same Saturday — as Brown chats with reporters and Adams works with Jones — Collins is with JaVale McGee, a court over. This season, McGee has been a Collins project.
In his 10-year career, Collins didn’t have near the athleticism of McGee, but he was a smart defender sculpted in Utah’s winning culture, coached by Jerry Sloan. Some of his most important work with McGee this season has been about the nuanced nature of pick-and-roll coverage and other minor details for a backup center, like trying to keep the ball inbounds on blocked shots. They’ve watched film and made clear progress.
But to keep McGee’s attention and trust, Kerr and Collins have realized you must remain patient with McGee’s quirky personality. So after most practices, Collins diligently rebounds and passes out to McGee, who circles the perimeter, shooting 3s the team never wants him taking in the game just because he enjoys doing it.
“Jarron kind of embodies the same characteristics (as Adams),” Myers said. “Humility. He’s not out there politicking for his own positioning on this staff. I know he has aspirations, healthy aspirations, to be a head coach and I believe he will be a head coach.”
But, for now, Collins and Adams and Bruce Fraser and Willie Green and all the other Warriors assistants, are focused on maintaining a culture and foundation around Brown, instead of dreaming about being in his seat.