Steve Kerr was a good coach when he came to the Warriors in 2014 and quickly became an excellent coach. He is one of three to reach six NBA Finals and win four championships in his first eight seasons.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that Kerr’s impeccable credentials indicate that his learning curve has come full circle. He would be the first to acknowledge that the lessons keep coming. Sometimes they hurt and memories tend to last.
That’s why Kerr should be a better coach next season than he was last season (or last week).
That will be the net result of the US men’s basketball team’s latest disappointing international performance. Kerr must live with being the head coach of a FIBA World Cup team that lost three of its last four games, ending in fourth place, with bittersweet memories but no medals. In that ignominious distinction, Kerr joins Gregg Popovich, the winningest coach in NBA history, whose team finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup.
Although there are several contributing factors (none greater than elite NBA players refusing to participate in an international competition that lacks the prestige of the Olympics), this latest version of Team USA had a daunting challenge. From the beginning.
Three main factors stood out during the competition in the Philippines:
1) The construction of the campus was, uh, curious. This was a “B” team, with some “C” level players. It was remarkably young, with players as young as 20 and none older than 28. It was lacking stars, with two players (Josh Hart and Bobby Portis) who are solid, veteran rotation players, but hardly All-Stars. Neither player had experience in the senior team. He was long on “changeability” but short – literally and figuratively – on interior presence, with Jaren Jackson Jr. a stellar defender but an average rebounder prone to fouls. Most of the responsibility for the roster falls on Kerr and his staff.
2) The rotations were, uh, curious. Tyrese Haliburton, the closest thing to Jason Kidd as a floor general, often sat during crucial moments. The purest 3-point shooter, Cam Johnson, averaged 11 minutes per game. The top rebounder and blocker, 7-foot Walker Kessler, averaged just eight, the fewest on the team. He was the only player to spend the entire match on the bench as Team USA was knocked out of gold medal contention in a loss to Germany. Considering the Germans’ length and the way they dominated the paint, Kessler’s defensive skills made him an obvious candidate to see significant minutes.
“There are a lot of big, strong guys in the changes and that’s why they did a good job executing,” Kerr told reporters after the 113-111 loss to Germany. “And, of course, in the changeover you know that (guard Dennis) Schröder is attacking. They put a lot of stress on your defense. “Just give them credit.”
3) Adjustments were slow or not made at all. Curious. The most visible adjustment was made after a surprising loss to Lithuania, which did an excellent job of exploiting the US team’s weaknesses. Kerr and his staff (respected coaches Erik Spoelstra, Tyronn Lue and Mark Few) unleashed a defensive fierce and swarming that suffocated Italy in a 100-63 win. What followed were consecutive losses. One against the great German team, against whom Kessler was a logical fit, and another against a more determined Canadian team, which survived a US team that lost some juice once the gold medal was out of reach. its reach.
With the US team whipped by three teams in a span of eight days, Kerr was the subject of the usual round of criticism. Some of that was deserved. He comes with the job when you train a favorite who doesn’t win. Popovich, you may recall, received the same treatment four years ago. He comes with the job when you train the favorite and leave the tournament empty.
“The game has gone global over the last 30 years or so,” Kerr said after the loss to Germany. “And you know these games are difficult. This isn’t 1992 anymore. Players are better all over the world. The teams are better. “It is not easy to win a World Cup or the Olympic Games.”
That’s not an excuse. It is a fact. The last five NBA MVP awards have been won by players born in other countries. Nine of the 24 players on 2023 All-Star rosters have roots in Europe or Africa.
Yet every player and coach on Team USA returns home wrapped in humility. Perhaps no one more than Kerr, who as a player and coach has experienced more successes than failures. He has already mentally reviewed this World Cup and will probably do so a few more times.
There will be another “Redemption Team” that will take the floor in Paris for next summer’s Olympic Games. They will bring the gold to the United States. That is typical of the international basketball cycle.
Meanwhile, Kerr has an NBA season in less than six weeks. He accepts the challenge. He is anxious. It is an opportunity to show growth. To show that he is a better coach than last season, last week or yesterday.
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