Steve Kerr has been an NBA general manager, he was the guy that brought Shaquille O’Neal into the seven-seconds-or-less Suns. He’d probably like to forget that. Obviously, Kerr also has sat in the head coaching chair in Golden State where he has won three of the last four titles.
Which made him the perfect person to comment on the challenges Tom Thibodeau faces in Minnesota, as the coach and president of a team where their star player, Jimmy Butler, has asked for a trade. While Kerr wasn’t about to comment on that specific situation, he did talk about how the two jobs are very different. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:
“One of the reasons I wanted to coach is because frankly it’s easier than being a GM and facing some of those choices,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “So I’m lucky, I’ve got a great GM, a great friend in Bob [Myers] and when we’ve been faced with difficult decisions the collaboration and the process that we’ve had has been really sound and I’ve learned a lot actually from being part of it.””
But can one person as the coach and GM work?
“I’m sure it can,” Kerr said, when asked if someone could still be successful in a dual coach/GM type role. “But it wouldn’t work for me. It depends on the circumstances, the situation. It depends on relationships within the organization. Everybody is going to be structured a little differently. But having sat in both chairs I would not be comfortable doing both jobs.”
It’s a tough line to walk. On the one hand, every team needs a like-minded philosophical agreement between the coach and GM — they have to be on the same page. Having one person do both jobs ensures that. However, a coach is thinking about the short-term, winning the next game and racking up victories. The GM has to think long-term, too — winning now but how to sustain that with younger players, plus keeping the roster within whatever the team’s budget is.
The dual role has failed a lot lately — Doc Rivers with the Clippers, Mike Budenholzer with the Hawks, Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons, now Thibodeau with the Timberwolves. The only place it has worked is San Antonio with Gregg Popovich, but that situation is unique because Popovich is unique (plus he has a Vulcan mind meld with R.C. Buford).
Eventually, some owner will give someone coach and GM power again, but it likely will be a while now. Teams like the checks and balances it creates. Minnesota is the latest example of why teams need that balance.