OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — They often hear him arrive at work from upstairs in the Warriors executive offices, the thundering vroom of his Harley Davidson a telltale sign.
Mike Brown rolled in on his Bay Area bike – he has another in Cleveland – one day last week, and since the practice he was leading between playoff games would be short, he never bothered to change out of his beige Harley-logo T-shirt and dark jeans.
Somehow, the veteran NBA coach filling in for the Warriors has found a way to beautifully blend being his distinctive self with carrying on the way reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr would do it if he were here and healthy.
Brown still works out Draymond Green daily on a court in the far corner of Golden State’s practice facility, almost as if nothing has changed in his position.
“It’s a tough balance,” two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry said. “Obviously Coach Kerr has set up an atmosphere and a way of doing things here that’s worked and been successful. When he hired Coach Brown, Coach Brown aligned right with that kind of idea. Coach Brown’s done a great job so far just, respectful is a word, but taking ownership of the opportunity right now to get over this next challenge. He obviously has Coach in his ear all the time, and that’s how it should be, but he’s got to have confidence in himself and in his own mind and what he sees out there to make decisions on the fly and push the right buttons in games and make the right adjustments.
“He’s done a great job of that ever since Game 3 in Portland. I’m sure that will continue.”
The 2009 NBA Coach of the Year with the Cavaliers, Brown has embraced getting another shot on the bench with an uber-talented team like Golden State – and wow has he coached some of the game’s biggest stars along the way, from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant to now Curry and Kevin Durant.
As the unbeaten Warriors prepare for the Western Conference finals against either Houston or San Antonio, this is a moment Brown knows won’t last. Kerr, who had another procedure last Friday for a spinal fluid leak, could come back before the postseason ends. But he might not.
The 51-year-old Kerr missed the first 43 games during last season’s run to a record 73 victories, including an NBA-best 24-0 start as now-Lakers coach Luke Walton guided Golden State to a 39-4 record in his absence. Brown and Kerr talk and text regularly to plan practice or scout opponents.
“Steve has done a fantastic job laying a great foundation down culturally and X’s and O’s basketball-wise,” Brown said. “We have a great staff. The staff has helped out tremendously and (GM) Bob Myers and his group, the leaders on the team, the veterans that we have. Everybody has kind of pitched in to help us keep heading in the right direction during this time.”
Brown has learned not to get too high or too low. He has been through the ringer losing his job in Cleveland only to come back, being let go by the Lakers and even facing a frightening situation last May putting out a kitchen fire in his home that left him scarred from all the burns.
Brown could end up coaching against the Cavs in the NBA Finals after guiding them to the playoffs in all five seasons during his first stint there from 2005-10.
Each day at Golden State headquarters, there is Brown going about leading Green through his post-practice individual work.
“It’s extremely important. I still have a role to do,” Brown said Wednesday. “Steve’s the head coach. So I’m going to keep doing it. That’s not going to change for me.”
Everyone figures just anybody can coach this star-studded roster, right?
Not quite that simple. But to withstand the absence of a head coach in the heart of a championship chase, it sure doesn’t hurt to have an experienced group of coaches and veteran players. That has helped make this such a seamless transition for everybody involved, and allowed Kerr to take all the time he needs to seek answers and healing as he deals with debilitating symptoms that stem from complications following a pair of back surgeries nearly two years ago after the team’s 2015 title run.
“Mike has done a really great job of leading the team, being very mindful of who we are as a team, directing a team as he feels Steve would kind of direct the team,” assistant and defensive specialist Ron Adams said. “I’m not talking about necessarily the messaging but I am certainly talking about the everyday process, talking to the group. Mike is a really mindful person, a person who’s very comfortable in his own skin.”
Brown has been Kerr’s manager of minutes all season, offering insight on substitution patterns from the very start that has played a key role in how rotations go – such as keeping two starters on the court at all times.
“Mike has had a pretty big voice throughout the whole season,” Durant said. “He’s been a head coach before, understands what it takes to be a head coach and the coaching staff is just so smart. They empower each other. If you’re around us on a day-to-day basis I think anybody can tell they kind of work well as a group as far as a coaching staff. Coach Kerr does a great job. He spearheads it all just by empowering everybody, from the coaches to the players. It’s unfortunate that he’s not on the bench with us, but he trusts and we all trust in Coach Brown to keep leading us.”
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