SAN FRANCISCO – After five remarkable seasons as head coach of the Warriors, it seems ludicrous that that Steve Kerr is on trial in Year 6.
Oh, but he is.
The prosecution opens this upcoming NBA season claiming Kerr is an average coach who had the good fortune to inherit a rising squad and ride a wave generated by exceptional talent. Lucky.
The defense counters, arguing that he's a stellar coach with three championship rings representing hard evidence. Skillful.
Kerr knows he's on trial because, well, he's an NBA coach and debate of the league rages 24/7/365. Though he has many believers -- Warriors CEO Joe Lacob certainly among them -- he need not Google the phrase "Steve Kerr overrated" to realize he has skeptics.
The next six months, then, are a referendum on his ability to find answers to more questions than he has ever faced as a coach, with one looming above all: Can he coax his diminished roster beyond its relatively modest expectations?
"You coach according to your circumstances," Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. "We've got five rookies here. We've got a bunch of other young players. We have six guys returning, including Klay (Thompson), who can't get on the court. That's five returning guys on the court. We had 18 guys playing Tuesday, so it's 13 new guys.
"I've got to explain stuff. I've got to coach."
For most of Kerr's tenure, he could lean on the veterans for support. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West are basketball sages. Kevin Durant has a full comprehension of the game. Draymond Green entered the NBA with a coach's mentality. Steph Curry was the exquisite solo artist, knowing when to improvise and when to stay on script. Thompson was the metronome, routinely putting 36 productive minutes.
Now, Kerr and his expanded staff have to prepare players with little or no history of success in the NBA.
Curry, Green and Looney know their way. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jacob Evans III, each with one season as a Warriors, are still learning. D'Angelo Russell is the new star, emphasis on new. After that, it's Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, NBA vets but first-year Warriors, as Willie Cauley-Stein will be once his foot heals. Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagic are rookies. By figurative definition, so is Omari Spellman.
"I look at this year as a growth year," Kerr said. "We've got to get a couple of these young guys to pop. We've got to get them to break through, so that when Klay is back at full strength next year we come back and we've got our core intact, with Steph, Klay, Draymond, D'Angelo and Loon. We've added to that core by that time. Maybe it's Jacob. Maybe it's Omari. Maybe it's Paschall. Maybe it's Alen. We don't know.
"But the whole point of this year is to put in all the work, dedicate our time to all these young guys, maintain our culture, get them incorporated into our way of doing things."
For inspiration, Kerr looks to the Miami Heat, whose identity remained even after the roster went from stars to sawdust.
"I think about (Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra, somebody I really admire," Kerr said. "I think he's one of the best coaches in the game. He went from coaching the Big Three -- Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James -- to all of a sudden, a bunch of young guys. What I admire about Erik is that Miami's culture has never changed. When you play Miami, it doesn't matter who is out there. You know you're in for a tough game. They're going to battle you and compete like crazy because they have built something tangible. Erik makes sure he upholds that culture.
"That's what we're trying to do this year."
That means, for Kerr, expanding his coaching philosophy. He concedes he'll make adjustments on offense, retreating a bit from his favored free-flowing system, with constant player motion and ball movement. That was the best way to utilize a roster rich with skilled players with a grasp of a system that can be complicated.
There will be more pick-and-roll action, something critics have been braying for since Durant signed in 2016. It's logical to rely on it more now largely because it's simpler, based on taking advantage of mismatches.
Pick-and-roll actions emphasize a team's true scoring threats, and the Warriors are down to two, Curry and Russell. It's unreasonable to expect D-Lo to fill the void left by Durant's departure and Thompson's injury, but he has proved he can find money in the pick-and-roll.
"The last few years were more about just putting them through their paces, getting the race horses out on the track, running and getting them back in the barn," Kerr said. "This is much more about teaching what we're doing and why we're doing it."
Not once did Kerr talk win/loss record. Not once did he mention the playoffs. He seemed focused on seeing incremental progress that might mean something this season but certainly must next season.
Kerr is the only coach in the post-merger era (since 1976) to get his team to five consecutive Finals. His 322-88 record and .785 winning percentage through five regular seasons are the best among all NBA coaches -- as is his 77-28 (.733) record among coaches with more than 25 postseason games.
That may be enough for the defense to rest its case. But the other side is unwilling to conclude anything before getting a look at Year 6, when Kerr has his first real project.
Warriors' Steve Kerr knows increased scrutiny awaits him entering Year 6 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area