It was the better basketball decision if he wanted to win quickly.
It was the decision that kept him closer to his family.
Yet Steve Kerr said his choice between being coach of the Golden State Warriors or the New York Knicks was “agonizing.” He was the first — and really only — choice of his friend Phil Jackson, he had the chance to mentor under the legendary coach.
“It just felt like the right move on many levels,” Kerr said by phone Wednesday. “They have a good young team. The location is ideal. My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It’s just a short flight for them.”
Kerr said saying no to Jackson was brutally hard.
“It was so tantalizing on many levels,” Kerr said. “Number one, Phil Jackson. Number two, the Knicks are a flagship franchise, one of the great franchises in the league. The last two weeks have been agonizing, in talking with Phil and (general manager) Steve Mills. They’ve got really good people there and I do think they’re going to get it turned around there. The Knicks could not have been better in giving me the space to make a decision, especially when I had a game to do every other night.”
“Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he’s done for my career,” said Kerr, who won three titles playing for Jackson in Chicago with the Bulls. “When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they’re going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it’s going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn’t feel right.”
When he told Jackson Tuesday he had to pursue the Golden State offer, Jackson told him to think about it and do what was in his heart.
Kerr did not say he was bringing the triangle to the Bay Area, noting he also played for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio as well as Lenny Wilkens for a while. He said all three taught ball movement and spacing and that will be reflected in what the Warriors run.
This is a roll of the dice by Golden State — they are team on the cusp of contending, they have stars such as Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, and they are trusting a guy with zero coaching experience (and a spotty record as a GM) to lead them to the highest levels of the sport. That’s a big gamble.
Kerr gambled too, not taking the job where he could have the cushion of time to figure everything out (nobody expects the Knicks to be all that great next season, maybe a playoff team in the East but not a real threat). In Golden State he needs to win fast and he needs to win big.
But it just felt right.