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For Warriors’ Steve Kerr, losing season still has merits

Warriors coach Steve Kerr talks to rookie forward Eric Paschall during a break in play against the Trail Blazers on Nov. 4 in San Francisco.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr talks to rookie forward Eric Paschall during a break in play earlier this season.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

The year was 1984. The Terminator said, “I’ll be back.” Prince and the Revolution told everyone what it sounds 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 — Kerr has been on the wrong side of .500 only one other time in those last 35 years — 11-17 sticks out.

Kerr, who also played for the 33-49 Cleveland Cavaliers in 1991, seemingly will suffer his first losing season in almost three decades, with the injury-plagued Warriors in a gap year. After five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, they lost Klay Thompson to a knee injury and Kevin Durant in free agency. Then four games into this season, they lost Stephen Curry to a wrist injury. Starter Kevon Looney also has been limited to 10 games, and new backcourt star D’Angelo Russell has missed 18 games.

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Thompson will be reevaluated at the All-Star break, though there’s little reason to rush him back from the 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 won 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.

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“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 to win one now and then just to make everybody feel better.”

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Sometimes that frustration spills over. Kerr’s been called for five technical fouls this season. Last week he was fined $25,000 for “verbally abusing an official” and failing to leave the court in a timely way after being ejected.

“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 Warriors’ beat writers will be able to finish planning an offseason wedding with a clear schedule. For an assistant coach like Jarron Collins, 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 brink of mental and physical exhaustion over five seasons as the NBA’s best team.

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“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 bench 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 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.”

Kawhi Leonard had a dunk and a block in the final 1:16, and the Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to top the Warriors 109-100.

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.

The Warriors have used a rotating cast of players in bigger roles than they’ve ever had to eat up minutes, from the likes of Damion Lee and Glenn Robinson III to kids in need of pro reps, such as Omari Spellman, Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall. In the end, the hope is that they’ll replenish some of the depth that got eroded during their five trips to the Finals.

“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.”

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Kerr’s fond of saying that the Warriors have been living a fantasy — winning all the time, collecting championship rings and setting records. This season, undermanned in terms of talent, is how it is for some teams.

“I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve lived a charmed life, for sure,” he said.

A short detour into the world the bottom of the NBA resides in isn’t the worst thing.

“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.”


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