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Warriors coach Steve Kerr having fun amid historically awful start

By
Alex Butler
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says watching players transform their careers has made this season fun, despite the team's terrible record. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says watching players transform their careers has made this season fun, despite the team's terrible record. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A year ago, the idea of the Golden State Warriors tanking for the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft was laughable. It's now something coach Steve Kerr has told his players the team won't do despite a dismal season.

The Warriors have appeared in five consecutive NBA Finals, but now have the worst record in the NBA. Injuries, inconsistent play and the departure of Kevin Durant are the main ingredients of the rancid recipe.

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"[Kerr] made it very clear: We aren't tanking," forward Omari Spellman said before the Warriors' lopsided loss Friday to the Miami Heat. "We are trying to win games. Every game is a learning experience."

The Warriors have won at least 57 games in each of the last five seasons, including three NBA titles.

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"I'm actually really enjoying this season," Kerr said. "It may sound strange, but these young guys are fantastic. They are eager to learn. They are playing so hard. They are getting better.

"It's fun to watch guys transform their careers and establish themselves because of what it means not only to them, but to their families and their lives."

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Sharpshooting "Splash Brothers" Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, along with D'Angelo Russell, are shelved with injuries, transforming the entire roster from a year ago. The Warriors lineup is now stocked with dynamic All-Star forward/point guard Draymond Green and a cast of players trying to prove themselves.

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Despite the dramatic lineup turnover, Kerr's championship-winning philosophy remains.

"[Kerr] coaches us like we are the No. 1 team in the NBA," Warriors forward Marquese Chriss said. "We make dumb mistakes, he pulls you out. If we are playing well, he'll let you rock [keep playing] unless you beat yourself."

Playing hard matters

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"Even though we are 4-18, we want to play hard every night because it matters," Kerr said. "It has to matter. Otherwise, what are you about?"

Like Kerr, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has experienced dramatic roster turnover. He once had a lineup headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Spoelstra went to the NBA Finals for four straight seasons, before the stars departed and the Heat missed the playoffs. Kerr noticed how hard those teams played before the Heat's return to relevance.

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"Erik was one of the guys I was drawn to [when broadcasting for TNT]," Kerr said. "I could see the competitive desire his teams played with. That's what we are trying to establish this year."

The Warriors are approaching record-breaking territory for the wrong reasons, as they are on pace to set the record for the biggest single-season drop-off in wins.

"It's really hard to accumulate that talent [in the NBA] and to get that talent to play together the way they [the Warriors] did," Spoelstra said. "It was exquisite basketball that changed the league in many ways. It's just the way of life in pro sports, unless you are the Patriots. Everybody else has to at some point recalibrate, retool and reinvent."

Kerr has the luxury of knowing his lineup will once again include the "Splash Brothers" and a more experienced supporting cast, due to younger players getting playing time in the stars' absence. He sees habits and tendencies being molded.

"You have to uphold your standard, culture and whatever you believe in," Spoelstra said.

"It's extremely tough to stay at the top for different reasons: free agency, age, all the noise, injury things you can't even predict. It's really competitive out there. Ours [championship run] was exhausting in four years. They went five years. That's really impressive."

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Green's gusto has been a glue keeping the Warriors together. His teammates say he hasn't changed, despite the adversity.

"Draymond has been very vocal," Kerr said. "The guys are very receptive to his advice, so it's a good dynamic."

Leaning on Draymond

"Going into training camp [Green] was loud, vocal and being a leader. We are 4-18 and he is still the same Draymond," Chriss said.

"His morale is not down. His energy isn't down. He's still trying to lead us and keep the energy of the team positive."

Kerr's coaching balances positivity and toughness. He wants his players to look forward to coming to work, without losing focus. He often encourages Green to deliver messages to the team, as his words resonate differently as a fellow player.

Green alters offenses with his intelligent defensive play. He frequently halts film sessions to point out intricacies. Younger teammates call him a "fanatic," but are soaking in the information and developing basketball minds that might translate into future defensive accolades and a deeper team, when Curry and other stars return to the lineup.

Draymond Green is the only All-Star still in the lineup for the Golden State Warriors, who have been using younger players this season due to injuries and player departures in free agency. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI


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Kerr has Green on a minutes restriction, based on the Warriors' season outlook, but the team must balance Green's playing time so he can still mentor younger players. Green has never experienced a losing season in his seven years in the NBA. Kerr has averaged more than 64 wins per season.

"I think I've learned how to be a better coach," Kerr said. "I haven't had to coach a situation like this. It's been a good reminder that every circumstance is different, every year is different.

"The last five years we have been championship contenders. I had to manage the team through the season and prepare for the playoffs ... This is much more about teaching and developing young players."

The Warriors' only wins this season came against losing teams. They have lost six of their last seven and 13 of their last 15 games.

"It's on us," Spellman said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. No one cares that certain people are hurt. They are looking at us like a free win. That can't be the case."

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