The beginning of the season might have been rough for Steve Kerr, but it certainly is ending on a sweet note for the Golden State Warriors head coach.
Kerr was named the 2015-16 NBA Coach of the Year on Tuesday morning. Under Kerr and Luke Walton’s guidance, the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games. They also set records with 24 straight wins to open the season, 34 road victories in a season, 54 consecutive regular-season wins at home (over two seasons) and became the first team to go through a season without losing two games in a row or losing to the same team twice.
The second-year head coach received 64 first-place votes for a total of 381 points. Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers finished second with 37 first-place votes and 335 points. Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs came in a distant third with 10 first-place votes and 166 points. Kerr was presented with the Red Auerbach Trophy by Walton and Warriors GM Bob Myers during a press conference held in a packed Junior Ballroom at the Oakland Convention Center.
“As a coach, you are entirely dependent on your players,” Kerr said. “You have to have talent and you have to have character. If you got guys who can play and they actually care and they are going to work and they are going to want to be coached and they are really really good, then you are in business.”
Kerr knew he was in business from the get-go.
“To inherit not only this group of players and this roster, but the kind of stability and support that I have from the organization,” Kerr said. “Working with Bob has been amazing. Peter (Guber) and Joe (Lacob) just an unbelievable ownership group that provides us with everything we possibly could need in order to win. Not just resources but emotional support and friendship, which is fantastic.”
Kerr also thanked Warriors President Rick Welts and the entire front office before moving on to the players.
“I really want to single out the players because we are remarkably lucky and I know everybody agrees with that,” Kerr said. “This is an amazing group of players who care about each other. They care about winning and they let us coach them and that’s awesome.”
Myers got emotional when asked for his thoughts on Kerr winning coach of the year.
“I don’t think everybody quite knows what, Steve, what you’ve had to go through this year and you deserved this award,” Myers said. “You don’t deserve it for winning, in my opinion, 73 games. You deserve it for coming to work every day with how you’ve had to feel. No one quite understands that except for the people that you go to work with every day.”
Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season due to complications from multiple offseason back surgeries.
“I just admire your courage,” Myers said. “I admire you as a person. When we hired you, a lot of people, and they were right, said you guys found a great coach and we did. But I found a great friend and I love going to work with you every day. I hope you are here as long as you want to be here. It’s really a privilege.”
Kerr became emotional himself when he described the dark days in the early months of the season and how his relationship with Myers evolved during those trying times.
“This was the hardest year of my life,” Kerr said. “Not even close. Incredibly lucky to have this amazing family and all these beautiful people around me. Bob went from being my general manager, a guy I worked with, to a guy I lean on every day. When I was really struggling with my pain, and I have gotten better, but when I was really struggling, Bob called me every single day and offered his support. If I didn’t have Bob and I didn’t have Margot and my kids and I didn’t have my team to come back and coach, boy it was rough. It was really rough. So the friendship that Bob has given me, and the support goes way beyond basketball, it will last a lifetime. Incredibly thankful Bob, to you, for everything you’ve offered me and for your friendship.”
While Kerr was out, Walton served as the interim head coach and guided the Warriors to the 24-0 start and compiled a 39-4 record. Walton was listed on the ballot and received a second-place vote and two third-place votes. Myers credited Walton for not allowing his success to get to his head.
“You did an unbelievable job,” Myers told Walton. “I kept waiting for you to change with your success because I’ve seen so many people change with success. I kept waiting for you to become someone else because you were getting adulation and you are obviously making your own mark. But I never saw for one second you wavered from your character and who you are and your support of Steve and knowing that you were just holding down the fort. I just think that’s tremendous. That is such a rare quality to be unaffected and to stay who you are.”
Kerr was asked about the tone he wanted to set when he first joined the Warriors. Kerr gave credit to Mark Jackson, who preceded him as head coach, for steering the franchise down the right path.
“The biggest thing that we wanted to do as a staff was respect what came before us,” Kerr said. “Mark Jackson did a great job turning this franchise around, helping the Warriors become a defensive-minded team. When we came in, the Warriors were already fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. So we walked in as a staff, we go man this is awesome. We already have a foundation to build upon and let’s try to get better.”
Two of Kerr’s former head coaches attended the press conference. Jerry Marvin, Kerr’s coach at Palisades High, and Lute Olson, Kerr’s coach at Arizona, made the trip to Oakland to surprise Kerr on his big day.
“This is a total shock to me,” Kerr said. “Amazing that you guys are here, so thank you for coming up to celebrate with me. This is awesome.”