In NBA Finals, coaching ranks include job intrigue and other sub-plots

NBA Finals feature intriguing subplots involving many in the coaching ranks

Lost among the LeBron vs. Steph story line, the "starved franchise" theme of Cleveland vs. Golden State, and the melancholy Kyrie Irving injury is the unusual cross-section of coaches in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors could take a 2-0 series lead Sunday against LeBron James and, um, whoever's left on Cleveland, soon becoming champs for the first time in forever with several coaching mini-plots.

It's been an unbelievable ride for the Warriors' Steve Kerr, but what about his predecessor required to analyze unimaginably successful Warriors games in front of massive Finals audiences?

There's also the guy across from Kerr, David Blatt, the somewhat embattled Cavaliers coach who was almost hired by Kerr as a Warriors assistant a year ago.

On the periphery, a Warriors assistant coach is on the way out and another possibly on the way up while continuing a charmed NBA life.

It all starts, of course, with Kerr.

The rookie

Kerr was great whenever he slapped on headphones at a courtside table and talked for the next three hours about the TNT game unfolding in front of him.

Then Phil Jackson, his former coach in Chicago, called about coaching the New York Knicks.

So much for analyzing Memphis-Charlotte games.

But then Golden State officials called Kerr, asking whether he'd like to coach their more talented team.

So much for the Knicks.

Kerr has been spectacular in his first season as an NBA coach, taking a team that finished sixth in the Western Conference last year to within three victories of a championship.

Players love his ability to know when to crack down and when to ease up, and there are plenty of laughs when Kerr sometimes takes over the music playlist during game warm-ups, what he refers to as "White Guy Wednesday."

He doesn't miss broadcasting, acknowledging the nervous energy he felt as a coach before the Warriors eliminated Houston in the West semifinals.

"There's a lot at stake," he said. "That's kind of why I got back into the competitive side of the game after being in TV the last four years. I wanted to feel this and wanted to be in the mix, be in the fire and feel all the emotions that go with it."

The former coach

Kerr was hired after Mark Jackson failed to get the Warriors past the second round of the playoffs in three years.

Now Jackson is part of the three-man ABC crew calling the Finals.

Strange? Yeah. Definitely.

Jackson, though, said it wasn't awkward watching the guys he coached advance toward the franchise's first title in 40 years.

"Great question, and the answer is no," he said. "As a kid, I dreamed of playing in the NBA, I dreamed of coaching in the NBA and I dreamed of announcing in the NBA, and I've fulfilled each and every one of those roles.

"I've seen people fade to black when they were fired or let go. ESPN and ABC have been great to me. So we move on."

The near-hire

Kerr is currently trying to outsmart the man he almost hired last year.

He met with Blatt near LAX and bonded instantly with a coach whose résumé was almost entirely based on international success. Kerr offered him a spot on the Warriors' bench but then the Cavaliers called Blatt about their vacancy at head coach.

With Kerr's encouragement, Blatt interviewed for it and became a somewhat surprising headline when Cleveland offered him the job. Blatt took it, of course.

"We both got exactly what we wanted," Blatt said. "We wanted to be part of a successful team that competes for the championship of the NBA. And it's happened — only we're on different sides."

It hasn't been easy for Blatt, who reportedly lost some support inside the locker room during a midseason slump and is now trying to figure out how to win Cleveland's first championship without injured All-Stars Irving and Kevin Love.

The departing one

Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry has always been a little too early or too late in three previous runs as a head coach.

He was in charge of Detroit before they acquired Chauncey Billups or either of the Wallaces, and with the Clippers while they were still, you know, the Clippers. Then he coached Phoenix after Steve Nash had already won two NBA MVP awards but still guided the Suns to the West finals.

Gentry jumped last month at the chance to become head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, who might have the league's third-best player in the rapidly rising Anthony Davis.

For now, though, Gentry remains with Golden State.

"It took me 27 [coaching] years to get here. All the energy that I have in life is going to be trying to help the Warriors in every way I can to win a championship," Gentry said. "Then there will be time to worry about what's going to happen in New Orleans."

The other rookie

Luke Walton won two championships as a role player for the Lakers and earned $34 million in an 11-year career, a solid haul for a second-round pick.

His string of good fortune continued in his first year as an NBA assistant. The Warriors won a franchise-best 67 regular-season games and are an astounding 47-3 at home.

Walton is steadily learning the nuances of coaching but there are times he misses his playing days, which ended in 2013.

"There's a lot of nights where it's February in Minnesota and I'm like, 'Thank God I'm not playing anymore,' " he said. "But there's big games, playoff games, where you do all the prep work, you've got the guys ready and the game plan ready, you just have to sit there and hope things go well. You miss being on the court."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: Mike_Bresnahan

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