OAKLAND, Calif. — As the Golden State Warriors finished practice Saturday afternoon, three men congregated in the middle of the court. General Manager Bob Myers asked Mike Brown and Steve Kerr if they believed the Cleveland Cavaliers would alter their defensive matchups for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. The discussion unspooled from there, three basketball men spit-balling ideas. It seemed perfectly normal, even if it was anything but.
The Warriors remain Kerr’s team, but Brown has coached them for the past 11 games, all victories, including Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Kerr has watched from off the bench — often in the locker room — since the middle of the first round, owing to complications from back surgery, primarily the leakage of spinal fluid, which has caused him immense pain.
Kerr remains integral in game-planning and running practices, and the Warriors have not lost with Brown leading the bench during games. The smoothness and success has diminished the impact of Kerr’s in-game absence. The bizarreness and uniqueness of the situation has in many ways gone overlooked: Twenty-four hours before they play Game 2, the overwhelming NBA championship favorites are not certain who their coach will be.
Myers said Saturday that the Warriors have not decided whether Kerr or Brown will coach Game 2. They will continue with the same course of action they’ve used for most of the playoffs. Until Kerr is ready, Brown will coach. But when Kerr is healthy enough to return to the sideline, the decision will be his.
“Every game has been on the table [for Kerr to return], and I don’t know,” Myers said. “But they’ve all been on the table. If they were off the table right now, I’d sit here and tell you. Unfortunately, I don’t know the right way to do. The way we’re choosing to do it is to give him as much time as he needs. If he gets to that point in time, we’ll deal with it then.”
The uncertainly obviously has not hindered the Warriors. They have romped to a 13-0 playoff record, including a 113-91 victory in Game 1 of the Finals. Kerr insisted last week he felt it would not impact the team whether Brown or he coached. “We can’t go into every game wondering, ‘Is Steve going to be our coach?’ ” Draymond Green said. Players have brushed off not seeing Kerr on the sidelines, and of course it helps to have superior talent.
“I agree with whatever he says,” Myers said. “It’s his team more than mine. If he thinks the team is good, I’m good with that. If I don’t trust his opinion on that, he shouldn’t be our coach. And I trust it implicitly.”
Brown has helped normalize an abnormal situation. He is coaching against the franchise that fired him twice and, incidentally, still sends him paychecks as part of a contract buyout. But he has carried himself with relaxed nonchalance, resisting questions about revenge and brushing aside the difficulties of replacing Kerr.
“They both said, hey, you’re the coach until we tell you otherwise,” Brown said. “So it’s simple for me to plan that way. And then if there comes a time that I’m not, I would have been prepared to coach the game if I needed to, but it’s easy for me to take a step back.”
Brown, in his first year with Golden State, has been able to mimic Kerr’s style, even though it deviates from how he’s coached in the past. Brown favored pick-and-roll and isolation plays; Kerr employs an offense based on flow and off-the-ball movement. But Kerr has blessed Brown’s decision to use more pick-and-rolls in the playoffs, especially featuring Kevin Durant.
“As far as the offense, he was like, ‘Sometimes we don’t run a play for two or three minutes straight,’ ” Durant said. “And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m so used to making sure we run something every time down.’ So it was an adjustment for both of us. It was great for me to have Mike to go through the season with me and kind of help me out and help me get adjusted. I think I helped him out as well. For sure, it was different. It was different for both of us.”
It would be different for anyone to endure the Warriors’ current structure. But it has worked so well that Kerr might be inclined to stay off the sideline. It is against Kerr’s nature to place his own needs ahead of his team’s. Despite his intense competitiveness, Kerr might decide that returning in the middle of a winning streak could only disrupt.
“The good thing is this: In his entire tenure here, he’s done what’s best for the team,” Myers said. “This isn’t about him or his ego or anything like that. If anything, he’s shown a willingness to put the team first all the time. Whatever decision is made that will be the primary focus: What is best for our team? And I trust him on that.”
Kerr remains an indispensable piece of the Warriors. He talks with players at practice, breaks down film and guides the team’s strategy. He speaks with Myers frequently, in both work and friendship capacities. Their relationship goes beyond basketball, and Myers and Kerr have both relied on it.
The Warriors operate differently than other franchises, with a degree of soul and calculated chaos. The culture has allowed them to weather an unprecedented situation as if it happens all the time. At the center has been the friendship between Kerr and Myers.
“It allows for better communication — more honesty, more vulnerability,” Myers said. “The more honest dialogue, the better decisions you make in life. When you know someone well, when you’ve been through highs and lows with them, you can have an honest conversation. If the conversation is not honest, what are we basing decisions on? We’re just kind of guessing.”