Zaza Pachulia tells story that explains why Steve Kerr is a good coach

Ali Thanawalla
·4 min read

Zaza's story explains why Kerr is such a good NBA coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

In the NBA, more teams have been hiring coaches with no prior coaching experience.

Rather than hire someone for their X's and O's knowledge, it's about the coach's ability to connect with the players.

That's what the Warriors did in 2014 when they hired Steve Kerr to replace Mark Jackson, who had been let go that summer.

Kerr had been a successful college basketball player, a five-time NBA champion as a player, a front-office executive with the Phoenix Suns and a TV analyst. But he hadn't even been an assistant coach, let alone a head coach, when the Warriors tabbed him to lead their playoff team.

It was Kerr's ability to relate to his players that, in part, made him successful.

When veteran center Zaza Pachulia signed with the Warriors in 2016, he was struggling to fit in with the high-octane offense that included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and fellow 2016 offseason acquisition Kevin Durant.

During the latest episode of the "Runnin' Plays" podcast, Pachulia recounted a story to host Grant Liffmann.

"Great to have a mentor like Steve because he noticed me without me opening my heart and telling him," Pachulia said. "I said 'Steve, what's going on? Coach, what's happening? I wasn't expecting this. I didn't sign up for this.' But he noticed because at the practices, especially in training camp, I was thinking a lot.

"Steve called me one day after the practice and he goes, 'Zaza, is everything OK?' And I'm like 'What do you mean, coach? I'm fine. I'm healthy.' And he was like 'No, how do you feel on the court? I know it's different, obviously. Different system.' That's how the conversation started and we got to the point where I said 'I don't know coach, should I change my game or should I start thinking about different things?' And I said 'For some reason, from outside, I'm getting so much negativity.' 

"So he smiled and one thing he told me, he said, 'Who's your head coach?' I said 'You are.' And he said, 'What about assistant coaches?' And we were on the practice court, actually, so I said 'Well, we have Mike Brown and the legendary Ron Adams and all those guys.' [And Kerr says] 'What about the teammates?' And I said I saw Steph, as always, after the practice, he was getting his 3-point shots with KD. And Klay was on another basket. And Draymond was working on his floater. I said, 'All these guys are my teammates, obviously.' And he said, 'That's what matters the most.' And he said 'We love you. We love what you bring for this team. And that's what matters the most.'

"And that was the game-changer, where I said, 'That's so true.' It's about what your coaches and teammates think about you. And they love seeing you on the team and appreciate what you bring for them and how you help them. So that was the game-changer. I literally locked everything off and it was a learning experience for me. It was a lesson where, don't listen to outsiders, and who cares?"

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Pachulia's feelings echoed those of former Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, who joined Liffmann and Kerith Burke for an earlier episode of the "Runnin' Plays" podcast.

“Something [Kerr is] really good at is feel,” Livingston said in September. “As a player, GM, coach, all those different things, just relationships. That’s where it starts. That what coaching is about.”

Livingston said "humility" was the trait Kerr possesses that makes him such a good leader.

“Steve said, 'I’m here for the team. It’s not my way or the highway. I’m here to find the best way,' " Livingston said. "And that really set the tone for us."

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The Warriors clearly made the right decision to hire Kerr six years ago. Rarely do you hear a bad word about him.

Kerr has the respect of his players, and as Pachulia and Livingston can attest to, he makes them feel comfortable.