Steve Kerr has won the NBA Coach of the Year award for the 2015-16 season. He is the first Golden State Warriors coach to win the award since Don Nelson in 1991-92.
But here's the catch, Kerr wasn't even on the bench for half the season. After having back surgery in the summer, Kerr wasn't healthy enough to coach before January -- Assistant Coach Luke Walton, who finished in 8th place on the Coach of the Year ballot, replaced him on the bench, going 37-4 in the first half of the year. Early in his return, Kerr even had to coach through pain, but he and his team willed their way to a 73-9 regular season record, the best of all-time.
Kerr wasn't truly absent while Walton coached the Dubs. He worked as a proxy, giving Walton and the Warriors advice from the locker room during halftimes. Walton was executing Kerr's plans of rapid ball movement, open threes, and sparkling team defense, using his mentor's attentive and positive style to lead the Warriors to a historic start. Kerr finished the incredible season in the second half, with Walton by his side, and his team still playing supernaturally well.
That's why Kerr, though not always on the bench, is still deserving of the Coach of the Year award. His presence and style is embodied by his team, whether or not he's with them; the Warriors are ferocious, energetic three-point gods. In Kerr's two years as their head coach, the Dubs have easily been the best team in the NBA. Before Kerr came along, Golden State was constantly criticised for not untapping their full potential, but now they have. They won 73 games this season, and even though he was out for half the year, it seems like a slight smack to the face to not give Kerr the award.
There's certainly an argument here, though. The Red Auerbach Trophy could have easily gone to to Terry Stotts (who only finished 46 points behind Kerr), or Gregg Popovich, or even Brad Stevens. They all had great years, and led their teams to spectacular, unexpected seasons.
But what could be more unexpected than going 73-9?
Is Kerr the most deserving?
The question above really depends on context. Is Steve Kerr the most valuable coach in the league? Almost certainly. The Warriors were structured almost the same way under former coach Mark Jackson, and they never snuck past the second round of the playoffs. Kerr has brought the same roster into offensive (and defensive) lore, turning Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and the rest into a basketball juggernaut. Sure, without Kerr, the Dubs would still have talent. But, they would also lose the gameplans, attitude, energy, and identity that Kerr brings to Oakland. With him calling the shots -- whether or not it be directly from the bench -- the Warriors are one of the best basketball teams of all time. Or at least they play that way.
It's clear that Steve Kerr is vitally valuable to the Warriors. But, that's the thing -- the Coach of the Year award is for the best coach of the year, not the most valuable. So, was Kerr the best coach this season? If we allow Luke Walton's success to be -- at least somewhat -- part of Kerr's, then the Warriors' coach has to be the winner. He just has to be. Not only did Kerr lead his team to 73 wins in a single season, but his team also put up astronomically historical numbers. They had the best start of all time (24-0), they averaged 115 -- ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN!!! -- points per game, they had the best road record of all time (34-7), and they shot an unbelievable 41.6% from the 3-point line.
Sure, much of that is the unadulterated talent of Curry, Klay Thompson, and the rest, but mix in Steve Kerr's whipping ball movement, high pick n' rolls, and ferocious fastbreaks, and the Warriors become the best team in the league. And, why not give the Coach of the Year award to the best team's coach? No one thought the Warriors could break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record, but they did. So, wouldn't it be a bit deceitful to not give it to Kerr?
Turns out, the NBA voters weren't so deceitful. Kerr gracefully accepted the award at a press conference on Tuesday, and now he has another piece of hardware to place in his trophy case at home.