Dieter Kurtenbach: Steve Kerr will be the highest-paid coach in NBA history, and you can't say he doesn't deserve it

Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News on

Published in Basketball

Steve Kerr isn’t going anywhere.

Not for the next two seasons, anyway.

ESPN reported Friday night what had been anticipated for the last week-plus: the Warriors coach had agreed to a two-year contract extension.

His current contract was set to expire this summer.

The real shocker of it all is how much Kerr will be paid over those two seasons: $35 million.

That’s Derrick White, Bogdan Bogdanovic or Lauri Markkanen-type money. It’s more per season than Kerr made in 15 years as an NBA sharpshooter.

It will make him the highest-paid coach in NBA history.

And you can’t say he’s not worth it.

Kerr’s performance will always be overanalyzed. Some loud members of the fan base will always believe he has no idea what he’s doing and should be fired.

You should have started ignoring those people long ago. Keep doing it.

Because there are few — if any — other coaches in this league who could have managed the Warriors during their dynastic run, which started when he arrived in the Bay.

(Mark Jackson clearly wasn’t going to do it.)

Fewer coaches could have navigated the post-dynasty world as gracefully, too.

The culture he installed with the Warriors has paid dividends far beyond the cost of this upcoming contract extension.

It paid out in four titles, the greatest run of the modern era, and the establishment of the Warriors — once the league’s laughingstock — as one of the preeminent franchises in professional sports.

Was it all Kerr? Of course not.

It was Steph Curry.

It was Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

It was Bob Myers and Kevin Durant.

It was Shaun Livingston, Andrew Wiggins, Andrew Bogut, Luke Walton, Mike Brown and even Jordan Poole, a bit.

It’s hundreds of people I didn’t mention.

But that was the way Kerr designed it all to work.

And he’ll be the first to tell you to credit all of them first.

The process of building up the Warriors was anything but seamless, even though Kerr made it look that way.

The process of keeping the Warriors at the top was even more precarious.


(If I could only tell you just one of the never-to-be-corroborated but hard-to-not-believe stories I’ve heard over the years.)

Oh, and building this team back up again — they went from the worst record in the NBA to, two seasons later, winning another title — was incredible work, too. Kerr never gets enough credit for that.

And navigating the challenges of two timelines and the last two seasons was anything but straightforward.

Kerr has handled it all with smarts and humility. He understands people as well as he understands the game. That’s a hell of a 1-2 for a coach.

I won’t lie, there were parts of this season when my internal monologue echoed the idiots on Twitter. When the Dubs were sub-.500 and floundering, I wondered if Kerr was the right man for the Warriors’ job moving forward. It seemed as if the Dubs had reached a nadir, and it was hard to see things coming together to create a team that could contend for the playoffs, much less a title.

I thought it might be time for everyone to go their separate ways. Nothing great lasts forever — not even the Golden State Warriors.

But Kerr and company figured it out.

They seem to always do that. That’s a pretty valuable habit to have in the NBA.

And while I’m not suggesting the red-hot Warriors are a title contender once again, they’re certainly showing as of late they’re a playoff-caliber team. They’re playing at a high level on both ends of the floor and Kerr’s decisions are big reasons why.

He and Jonathan Kuminga found peace after an ugly media blow-up. The 21-year-old forward has been on a tear since.

He benched Klay and had the future Hall of Famer thank him for it.

He pushed back against swing-for-the-fences drafting and helped bring in two impact rookies this past offseason.

And he found a way to manage Draymond amid all of Green’s nonsense this season.

Has Kerr always kept his superstars happy? No.

But he has always kept them committed to the cause. He knows players run the league, but anything but a lackey. It’s probably why he’s stuck around so long so far.

And let’s not forget this man’s bona fides as a coach — he’s lost one Western Conference playoff series ever. One. And that just happened last year. Do you really think he was just a bystander for that kind of consistent excellence?

Even when Kerr couldn’t coach this team because of health issues, the systems he built were strong enough for someone else to lead and do it at a high level. For everyone needing a strongman, just know putting one in charge is a surefire way to have a weak organization.

Ultimately, Kerr doesn’t need credit or admiration. He gets plenty from those who know the game and the incredible, nuanced challenges of his job. (If only it was as simple as X’s and O’s — something that he did so well he revolutionized the game.)

It, of course, helps that Kerr — who was already handsomely paid — is now he’s getting a massive, record-setting pile of admiration from the Warriors.

There’s no salary cap or luxury tax on coaches, after all.

Oh — why two years? Why not sign a long-term deal and take all of Lacob and Gruber’s money?

Well, two years just so happens to line up with Curry’s contract.

This contract was just another smart Kerr move.

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