SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Kerr had more time than usual to think. The Warriors had been eliminated from the playoffs before the NBA Finals for the first time in his tenure and those extra weeks gave Kerr a chance to assess how a championship team’s title defense season turned so sour.
Kerr blamed himself.
“I will say that I feel like I failed last year in connecting the group,” Kerr said to this news organization in July. “I have taken a lot of time this summer to think about last year, things I could have and should have done differently. I really believe that sometimes losing sort of forces you to reassess and reevaluate. And I’m excited about coming back next year with a renewed focus and energy and spirit from the entire group. That starts with me and I can’t wait.”
Team leaders started to change habits months before training camp even began. Steph Curry and Chris Paul organized offseason minicamps and team dinners to get the entire team acquainted — something the Warriors haven’t done in years.
Kerr decided to change the structure and tenor of practices, handing over some organizational responsibilities to assistant Kenny Atkinson while he was away coaching Team USA in the FIBA Tournament. His coaching staff has nearly doubled in size since this ride began in 2014, which sometimes means untangling a chaotic stream of voices and ideas.
“There’s more attention to detail, in all facets,” Warriors longtime assistant coach Bruce Fraser said. “Our practices are similar in their form and format, but some of the portions of it are more detailed with fundamentals, read-based IQ and with some of our attention to detail on defense without fouling and rebounding.”
The coaching staff has been split into two “pods,” offense and defense, with “mini pods” to focus on things like rotations, scouting and overall performance. Fraser leads the offensive pod along with assistant coaches Dejan Milojević and Khalid Robinson, and head video coordinator Lainne Wilson. Atkinson leads the defensive pod with assistant coaches Chris DeMarco, Jacob Rubin and player development coach Klinton Carlson. Some coaches float between pods and Kerr is the final judge.
“It’s like a think tank,” Fraser said. “We’ve grown in numbers as a staff. It’s a good way to make things more efficient and define roles more. When we first got here, we were all doing everything. There was six or seven of us at the time, and now there’s a big group. The thing about Steve as a coach is everyone has a voice, but the bad thing is everyone has a voice. So sometimes there’s too many ideas and our team would diminish. The pods help bring the ideas to a whole.”
The hope is that by getting everyone on the same page, they can sift out all the mistakes and miscommunication that bogged them down last season, particularly on defense on the road. The improvement isn’t evident yet despite their perfect preseason record — the Warriors turned the ball over 22 times and fouled 21 times in their comeback win against Sacramento on Wednesday — but coaches attest preseason numbers are misleading. The coaching staff is taking a lot of the analytic-based information they’ve been using, but using recent experiences to change things up.
“Some of Steve’s experience watching the rest of the world play this summer and what some of the things Team USA lacked,” Fraser said. “Not in format or process, but in watching players play and where we can separate ourselves.”
Trying to make his Year Three leap, Jonathan Kuminga is absorbing the hyper-focused coaching in practices. That means coaches will sometimes stop practice when he’s caught ball watching instead of crashing the boards.
“It’s more about giving more variety with the coaches and working in small groups as opposed to one-on-one work. With individual work, there’s a limit of what you can do,” Atkinson said. “When you work in small groups, it creates more decision-making opportunities. And the players like it, they play more. One-on-zero is isolating.”
It’s not a typical cadence for a veteran-heavy roster like the Warriors — no experienced player wants to re-learn what they know. There’s been some sacrifice from the Warriors’ veterans to ensure there’s more learning opportunities in practice.
“Training camp is a lot different than last year,” Moses Moody said. “Emphasizing moreso on teaching, slowing down, making sure we don’t skip over anything.
“In years past, we had older guys so a lot of guys wouldn’t necessarily want to sit here and do a bunch of drills a bunch of times because they know where to be. But this year, even the guys who know it are slowing down and going over the repetitions. I think that will be good for us.”