When Phil Jackson was hired as president of basketball operations, one of the first things on his agenda was to trade out the current coaching staff for a new one that was experienced in running the Triangle Offense.
Steve Kerr was at the top of Jackson’s list, after playing under him for so many years in Chicago, and now looking to get into coaching after previous roles in the front office and being a part of TNT’s national broadcast coverage.
Kerr actually committed to Jackson at one point, before the contract details had been worked out — but more importantly, before the Warriors came calling with a better offer that allowed him to stay near his family on the West Coast.
It was a bit messy the way the whole thing played out, with the New York media speculating that Knicks owner James Dolan was interfering with contract talks, which resulted in a low-ball offer that seems embarrassing in hindsight. But the money wasn’t the issue, and Kerr said that Jackson wasn’t upset when he decided to bail on the Knicks job and grab the one with the Warriors.
NBA.com: Do you second-guess yourself? Do you regret the way you handled it — saying yes, committing to it before things had really been worked out?
Kerr: A little bit. It’s a human thing. Phil couldn’t have been better when I told him I was going to go Golden State.
NBA.com: He didn’t feel burned?
Kerr: Not at all. Because he understood. In fact, he said, “If you had come here and regretted it, it would have been the worst thing for both of us.” That’s why Phil’s Phil. He understands people. In hindsight, it probably would have been best not committing, not saying anything, just saying, “Look, I need to talk to Golden State.” But the timing was an issue on both ends. It was very tricky. Anyway, it all worked out. I think the Knicks ended up with a great coach and Derek (Fisher) and Phil will do well together and I’m happy to be here with (general manager) Bob (Myers) and the team.
NBA.com: Because you two have such a history, was it difficult to tell Phil you were not taking the job?
Kerr: It was agonizing. But his reaction made it a lot easier.
It ultimately worked out for both sides. Kerr gets to stay near family, while coaching a team more ready to win in the immediate future. And, this job doesn’t have nearly the pressure associated with it that the same one does in New York City.
Jackson, meanwhile, installed Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, and Jim Cleamons — all of whom have extensive experience with his offense. But despite how he handled things with Kerr personally, he had to have been at least a little disappointed in how this all played out.