Playoffs 2017: West Semifinals -- Warriors (1) vs. Jazz (5)

Uncertainty surrounds Steve Kerr's health and future with Golden State Warriors

Warriors have not missed a beat since coach departed, but have yet to face adversity without leader

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody is saying it but everyone is wondering: Will Steve Kerr ever coach again? Not just in these playoffs, but as in, ever?

As the Warriors edge toward the brink of their second straight sweep of a series, their heads are here but their hearts are elsewhere. As it should. Their coach just received what was termed Sunday by the club as “a procedure” at Duke University to correct a spinal cord leakage, which has beset him with side effects too painful to allow him to continue coaching the Warriors.

Kerr hasn’t been on the bench since the second game of the first round and while the Warriors haven’t skipped a beat, the players and front office members would obviously love to have him back. This is his system and philosophy they’re using to make their way through the Western Conference, and lead assistant coach Mike Brown has kept the ship steady in Kerr’s absence.

Yet: There’s no clarification on Kerr’s condition because the doctors don’t know and he doesn’t know; therefore, nobody knows.

“It’s hard to answer (some of these questions) because the doctors aren’t entirely sure of recovery time,” said Bob Myers, the team’s general manager. “That’s why we’ve been a little indefinite about everything.”

Kerr’s issues stem back to two summers ago when he underwent back surgery, which didn’t go well. During surgery, damage was done to the spinal area that caused leakage, and the side effects have made Kerr ill in stretches. He missed half the historic 2015-16 regular season and endured uncomfortable stretches this past season. Kerr had been hesitant to undergo another surgery because of the experience. Myers said the procedure at Duke on Friday was “similar in nature” to some of the procedures Kerr had in the past to alleviate the issues, which indicates he didn’t have another surgery.

Kerr remained at Duke through the weekend and it’s unclear when he’ll rejoin the club or return home, although Myers didn’t believe Kerr would be at Duke much longer.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob said on Bloomberg radio on Friday that Kerr would be back “sooner rather than later” which is vague in nature. Basically, everyone’s in the dark about this.

In the meantime, Kerr has spoken with Brown daily and the two discuss strategy and other basketball-related issues. Brown says the Warriors haven’t strayed from business-as-usual without Kerr, although Brown does drop a few of his own strategies from time to time during games, with Kerr’s full blessing.

The Warriors are good enough to perform without Kerr — evidently, since they’re undefeated in the playoffs — but Myers said the true test will come when and if they lose a game. Also, Kerr wasn’t bashful about confronting a player about a mistake or issue; does Brown have that luxury as an interim coach? Could he command the same level of respect if he’s required to raise his voice? Until that scenario presents itself, everything else is speculation, despite players and coaches and front office types saying all the right things.

There’s a human element to this that goes well beyond basketball, which Myers stressed. Myers is a close friend of Kerr’s and therefore the GM is thinking health-first, as if everyone else.

“This is one of the best people I’ve ever met,” said Myers. “I will be so happy when he’s better, for him and his family and everyone else that’s close to him. He’s a great human being and my hope is that, with this time off, we figure it out and the doctors figure it out and he can get back to life.”

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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