The NBA season can be a slog for players and coaches alike, especially leading up to the All-Star Break, which begins later this week. At this point in the year, teams have played nearly 60 games in three months without more than four days of rest in between contests. It’s an exhausting stretch both physically and mentally for athletes.
That’s part of the reason why on Monday, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr chose to break up the monotony by letting his players coach against the lowly Phoenix Suns (18-40). Draymond Green (who was out with a finger injury), Andre Iguodala and David West drew up the team’s plays during timeouts, and the Warriors smacked the Suns by 46 — of course they did.
Golden State did this, like so many of their other incredible basketball feats, because they can. The Warriors are essentially a self-driving car at this point.
When Kerr missed extended time during the 2016-17 season due to back pain, interim coach Luke Walton went 39-4 and landed a job with the Lakers for his, um, efforts (anyone could have coached the Warriors to at least 30 wins during that span). They went on to record the best regular season record in NBA history.
It may seem like another example of the Warriors being the Warriors, and doing whatever they want because they know they’ll probably win anyways, especially against Phoenix (at least one Suns’ player, veteran forward Jared Dudley, saw the move as disrespectful). But maybe Kerr is onto something here.
“It’s the players’ team, and they have to take ownership of it,” Kerr explained to ESPN’s Chris Haynes. “As coaches, our job is to nudge them in the right direction, guide them, but we don’t control them.”
I read that quote and started thinking about the role of coaches in the NBA. Do players really need them in order to be successful or could they run a team on their own?
Some NBA coaches play vital roles in their team’s successes. The San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich is obviously one of the greatest coaches of all-time in any sport, so we can go ahead and excuse him from this discussion. Other than the five-time NBA champion, the league’s elite class of coaches looks pretty thin.
Kerr and the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens have been revelations since arriving at their respective teams. Both changed the Warriors’ and Celtics’ culture and on-court mentality, in the process making each team elite in a very short time span. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, the Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle and the Houston Rocket’s Mike D’Antoni are regarded as some of the game’s greatest tacticians, perpetually leading barren rosters to overachieving seasons (and winning championships with talented rosters).
Outside of that group, most NBA coaches are expendable and liable to be fired at any time, especially when a star player clashes with them. It happened when Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard demanded coach Stan Van Gundy’s departure in 2012. It happened when Stephon Marbury disagreed with basically every coach he played for. It’s even widely accepted that LeBron James made the decision to cut ties with Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach David Blatt in the middle of the 2015-16 season.
If most coaches are mere figureheads and players run teams anyways, maybe it’s time for the player-coaches to emerge as an option for teams in the NBA.
It’d be a great way for aging athletes to transition into the coaching world seamlessly (unlike recent player-turned-coaches who were fired quickly such as Derek Fisher, Jason Kidd and Earl Watson). They’d already carry the respect of their peers, along with the ability to reach and motivate them. In basketball, where overall offensive philosophy is paramount over individual play-calling, players could slip in and out of the coaching role more freely than in other sports.
Player-coaches were commonplace in the NBA during the 1960s and 70s. For example, NBA legend Bill Russell coached and played for the Celtics for three seasons. In an NBA era when coaches are as inessential as ever, it’s time for a revival.
“It’s their team,” Kerr said to ESPN. “I think that’s one of the first things you have to consider as a coach.”
In such a player-driven league, maybe it’s time to consider having players coach themselves.
Here are a couple of things I enjoyed in sports this week.
In a U.S. Winter Olympics team devoid of big-names besides Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn, 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim has taken the country by storm. On Monday, she captured the gold medal for halfpipe with a stunning score of 98.25. In many ways, she’s the perfect Olympic star for today’s generation — she’s the child of immigrants and she tweets about food in between runs. In Pyeongchang, the United States found its next star in Kim. She’ll no doubt anchor the U.S. Olympic team for years to come.
JuJu’s social media post of the week
Former USC and current Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t stop going viral. This time, he posted a video of his mom nagging him to do chores. “I’m an NFL player, I can’t be brooming and sweeping this trash,” Smith-Schuster pleads, to which his mom replies, “You ain’t sh-t. Hurry up.” NFL star or not, you’re never too old to disobey your mom.
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs Wednesdays.