(Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
Ever since Steve Kerr wrote his his stance on the age limit for NBA players on Grantland, I have had a mild dislike of him. I have already written a response to that article and commented on Kerr’s fairly poor performance as an announcer at the Final Four (speaking of which, I think a slice of burnt toast would sound intelligent when paired with Marv Albert), but it seemed like an opportune moment to discuss the new coach of the Golden State Warriors and how my opinion of the 20-year-old age limit has changed.
While Kerr hasn’t coached before, his has followed the path of a unique coaching tree. The reserve guard, who never averaged better than 8.6 points in a season, played for the two most successful coaches of the last 20 years – Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. He has undoubtedly taken lessons from both coaches and the primary lesson may have been: make sure that you have great players. For this reason, I wasn’t particularly surprised that Kerr spurned the Jackson and the Knicks. Even with the Zen Master’s winning pedigree, the Knicks won’t be winning any championships in the near future. Kerr is at least smart enough to know that.
Is Kerr smart enough to push the Warriors to the next level after they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Clippers earlier this month? I have to admit that I was skeptical about Mark Jackson’s coaching after he made a similar leap from the broadcasting booth three years ago, but Jackson prodded the Warriors into respectability. His downfall was apparently his inability to get along with upper management. I don’t think that will be a problem for Kerr.
However, I am similarly skeptical of Kerr as a coach. His reign as general manager in Phoenix was mediocre. At first, he tried to install a defensive-oriented approach with coach Terry Porter. To his credit, he wasn’t stubborn enough to stick with that strategy and returned to the Suns’ run-and-gun ways with Alvin Gentry. In his three years as general manager, Kerr led the Suns to the playoffs twice and they made the Western Conference finals in 2010 behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Kerr’s big moves included trading for Shaquille O’Neal (Shawn Marion heading to Miami) and picking up Jason Richardson for Boris Diaw. Kerr also made two first round draft selections: Robin Lopez in 2008 and Earl Clark in 2009. Overall, his regime gets a big shrug of the shoulders, but he has been able to push the responsibility on the owner’s stinginess since returning to TNT.
While I apologize for leaning on my Bucks’ fandom, I have seen a similar coaching situation before. Kerr is expected to be an amalgam of Jackson and Popovich. That just isn’t likely to happen. When the Bucks hired Larry Krystkowiak, he was supposed to combine the offensive innovation of Terry Stotts with the defensive leanings of Scott Skiles. That may have been true, but the Michael Redd–Mo Williams led Milwaukee squad had a 40-win upside. It wouldn’t have mattered if Krystkowiak were the unholy union of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, the Bucks were not getting out of the first round of the playoffs. In the end, Milwaukee won 31 of Krystkowiak’s 100 games as coach.
Golden State is a very talented team and it is possible that Kerr will be an upgrade on Jackson. They have a pair of great shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but players like Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala may be on the downsides of their careers. David Lee is 31 years old and the team had to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to play big minutes in the playoffs. Curry has been able to play 78 games in each of the last two seasons, but he has had persistent ankle issues in the past. In the loaded Western Conference (which is actually loaded, unlike this year’s draft class), everything would have to go right for the Warriors to really do damage in the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what Kerr can do with the Warriors’ young players such as Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. Even if Kerr had his way in terms of the NBA’s age limit, Barnes (who left school after his sophomore season) and Green (who spent all four years with Michigan State and was just a second round pick in 2012) would have been eligible for the draft. Would more school have helped Barnes? It seems unlikely to me. He could still be a quality NBA player, but he is struggling to find a complementary role after being a star in high school and college.
I still vociferously disagree with some of Kerr’s reasoning behind the age limit. I take particular disgust in the fact that he compared 18-year-old rookies – such as LeBron, Kobe, and Garnett -were not as impactful as 22-year-old rookies like Jordan, Bird, and Magic. That point is obvious. It would have been better to compare the players at similar ages. His other points are also bordering on nonsensical. Of course college basketball helps market players, but why should they have to play for free?
My reason for changing my mind on this issue is that it affects so few players. Arguing against the age limit is like looking at a tree rather than forest. For every LeBron, Kobe, and Garnett who are good enough to make the jump straight to the pros, there are thousands of players who are completely unaffected by the age limit. While two years of college would have been a complete waste of Jabari Parker’s and Andrew Wiggins’ time (I think they both could have been drafted out of high school), the majority of players – including Doug McDermott – would have kept on playing.
If the NBA is insistent on putting a two-year rule in place (as seems to be Adam Silver’s desire), then they have to put some measures in place for kids who are not interested in going to school. A robust minor league would be a good start. I refer to the good points of baseball sparingly, but the sport does not have an age limit (beyond high school) and allows young people the opportunity to play professionally. The NBA can try to keep youngsters out, but I don’t think the rule change would have the desired result. It is not as if NBA teams didn’t draft busts in the good, old days when basketball players routinely went to school for four years. Three years of school didn’t help Kerr evaluate Earl Clark properly.