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Warriors' Walton attempts to maintain normalcy

Champs hope to keep continuity until Kerr recovers from surgery

POSTED: Oct 16, 2015 9:16 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is trying his best to dutifully manage the team during Steve Kerr's absence.

— On Day 12, the replacement, Luke Walton, said "Steve is pretty hands-off right now," and one of the key players, Draymond Green, noted how "any time you lose your leader it's different, regardless if you're a veteran team or not," so, yes, the Golden State Warriors potentially starting their title defense without ailing coach Steve Kerr could become a big deal.

Or Kerr could walk, however gingerly, through the door in a few hours. Or maybe he returns by opening night, Oct. 27 against the New Orleans Pelicans at Oracle Arena, or maybe not for a month (or months).

Hang Time: Warriors GM Bob Myers

The Hang Time crew sits down with Warriors General Manager Bob Myers.

Whether the San Antonio Spurs had the better roster after winning the offseason, how the Warriors would handle life as the hunted, if Stephen Curry got enough downtime in the busy celebration summer to re-charge for a long 2015-16 -- those were supposed to be the unknowns to watch as the regular season approached. Not when the coach would be on the job.

Yet there they were Tuesday, 12 days after announcing Kerr would take a leave of absence to recover from two offseason back surgeries but no closer to knowing his availability than when he left. Walton, at 35 and two full seasons removed from his own playing career, would be coaching the exhibition game that night against the Nuggets.

The situation is entirely TBA, purposely, and understandably, left open-ended. Kerr gets as much time as he needs. Actually, even more time than he needs, general manager Bob Myers has stressed, wanting Kerr to come back only when he is physically very sound and not merely strong enough to gut through days.

Which leaves the Warriors in a Fill In The Blank spot.

He trusts me and he trusts our staff to make the right decisions and that's what we feel we're doing. If he calls and wants to talk about it, then we talk. But I'm not going to call him and bother him with the details when he's focused on his recovery.

– Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton

Golden State is fine. This is a bad time for the coach, but not in the least for the team. That is a mature locker room with the kind of chemistry most other organizations would envy, all now built on a championship foundation. Besides, it's October.

Kerr being out indefinitely is not a big deal.

"I don't think so," Nuggets coach Michael Malone, a Warriors assistant from 2011 to 2013, agreed. "I'm not in it day to day, but just kind of knowing the players that they have, the internal leadership from Bob Myers, even down to the locker room. Steph, Klay (Thompson), Draymond, Harrison (Barnes), (Andrew) Bogut. Obviously my thoughts are with Steve Kerr and hopefully he's able to get his back issue figured out so he can get back on the sidelines because he's a terrific coach who, I think, is about all the right things. That's first and foremost. Prayers for him.

"But Luke, he's got some good coaches around him and these guys won a championship. Through that experience and through the adversity that they faced at different times, they'll figure it out amongst themselves."

Golden State is not fine. That's now the two top coaches from the title staff out, with lead assistant Alvin Gentry in New Orleans as the coach and Kerr until further notice. Kerr is very valuable. Important pieces simply are not removed without some fallout.

Kerr being out indefinitely is a thing.

GameTime: Myers on Kerr

Kristen Ledlow talks with Warriors GM Bob Myers about starting the season without Steve Kerr.

"I think the standard in this league and who everyone looks to when you talk about a really veteran team it's probably the Spurs," said Green, the starting power forward. "And you take (Gregg) Popovich away from that team, it'll be different. Not saying you can't find a way and you still won't get it done. But it's different. I think Luke has done a great job at pretty much just keeping everything the same. Running the ship, he's done a phenomenal job. But it's going to be different regardless. Any time you lose a leader, whether that's your coach, whether that's a CEO of a company, it's going to be a little bit different."

The switch Walton, with one season as a player-development coach in the NBA D-League and last season in Golden State, instead of Ron Adams, the defensive specialist beginning his 21st season as an NBA assistant, adds to the intrigue. Not only that, Kerr apparently is not giving directions from behind the scenes. The permanent and the interim talk only sporadically, Walton said.

Any time you lose a leader, whether that's your coach, whether that's a CEO of a company, it's going to be a little bit different.

– Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green

"I talk with Steve whenever he calls me, but my view on that is I don't want to bother him with these types of decisions," Walton said. "He trusts me and he trusts our staff to make the right decisions and that's what we feel we're doing. If he calls and wants to talk about it, then we talk. But I'm not going to call him and bother him with the details when he's focused on his recovery."

"These types of decisions" are relatively minor, along the lines of what to emphasize in a practice. The system is obviously pretty well in place, and there are no indications Walton is planning a coup that will result in real decisions. (Stephen Curry for Sixth Man of the Year, anyone?) But that Kerr is not constantly hand holding is interesting.

It gets especially interesting, of course, if the absence lasts into the regular season or long into the regular season. That's when Walton will have to make adjustments, consider changes to the rotation and tailor practices to a specific issue. The record at the start of the season will matter in April in home-court advantage in the playoffs, something the Warriors will be very conscious of given the endless waves of support at Oracle Arena.

"We try to tell ourselves, 'What would Steve be doing right now?' " Walton said. "We try to mimic. This is his thing he put together, so we try to keep practices with the same ideas. Obviously we've done a couple different drills and we've changed a couple things up. But the general idea and theme of what we're doing if what we feel that Steve would be doing and what he would want done."

He is not preparing with the mindset of being the coach on opening night, Walton said, but he is getting more comfortable with the possibility with each passing day of preseason experience. Kerr could be back by Oct. 27. Or he might not be. That is the update.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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