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Evaluating Steve Kerr - A Retrospective

I might be stepping on BSotS editors/writers toes here with another evaluation, but I've got a lot to say on Steve Kerr.

In fact, I've had a lot to say on Kerr ever since he was hired in June 2007 (see below).  Now that we're looking at a complete 3-year tenure, I think an evaluation is in order.  You can vote in the poll, write your comments below, or both.

I've been blogging on the Suns since Oct 2006, nearly all of my work posted on sportingnews.com between 2006 to 2009.

Right after Steve Kerr was hired in June 2007, I posted my thoughts on Kerr at the time. This was before he'd made any changes, any decisions at all. 

So who knows whats going to happen? Maybe Kerr has the magic touch on getting deals done. Maybe he and D'Antoni will mix like salt and pepper (in the good way, like on a steak).

But then maybe this whole thing will blow up, with the coach and GM butting heads until one of them has to go while Nash looks on helplessly.

The latter came true, of course.

Then in May 2008, I posted about his first year behind the wheel, just after the Suns were dispatched in 5 games by the Spurs.  What a sad summer that was.  I waxed philosophical in that post, probably because I was still numb from shock.

Lets just call it the circle of life. Two years ago, the Suns were revolutionary. They were unique. But a short shelf life is inherent in those descriptions. How can it be a revolution if it lasts forever? How can it be unique if everyone else is doing it?

So now the Suns are at a crossroads. Start over? Sure, eventually. But for several reasons, the Suns will not do it quite yet.

So what did Kerr do wrong in that first year at the helm?  Not at much as most people thought, at the time (July 2008).

So what did Kerr do wrong?



Trading Kurt Thomas to Seattle for cap relief? No. The Suns are STILL one of the highest payrolls in basketball, so stop calling Kerr and the owner "cheap". Thomas was costing the Suns $16 million all by himself - and he only played in certain games, against certain teams.

Resting his hopes on injury-prone Grant Hill? No. Hill was a great find, but unfortunately his health failed him once again at the wrong time. He is still a huge bargain.

Trading Marion for Shaq? No. Kerr HAD to do something. If you were really following the team, you'd have seen that something had to change. The Suns with Marion were stale. They'd lost their mojo. Kudos to Kerr for trying to hit the jackpot. O'Neal was only 18 months removed from leading the Heat to their first championship. Maybe he could do it again.

Trading away draft picks? No. Don't blame Kerr for that. It was D'Antoni who said the Suns were not in the business of developing young players, not Kerr. Since taking over the Suns, he has drafted 4 players and all 4 may very well be in the rotation of a 55-win team this season. That last note is important. First and second-year players rarely have big roles in winning teams.

Forcing D'Antoni out? No. Well, yes...to an extent. Kerr wanted the Suns to play a little more defense. D'Antoni stubbornly refused. Ask ANY Suns fan or Suns hater if the Suns needed to play more D. Kerr was right on. D'Antoni left of his own accord, and will rue the day he did so. There are no Steve Nashes in New York.

A year later, the Suns missed the playoffs entirely and spent the summer licking their wounds.  Shaq moved on to greener pastures, thanks to Danny Ferry and our man Kerr, and the were moving forward by looking backward.  Here was my assessment in the summer of 2009, after Kerr decided NOT to blow up the team:

Get the national TV games again. Get the season ticket sales. Appease the rioting locals.

Without Shaq in the middle, next year’s offense will be much more dangerous. The Nash/Stoudemire pick-and-roll is back. The kids are a year older. The rotation is deeper than ever. Rookie Earl Clark looks like a taller Boris Diaw with better on-ball defense. The team will run, players will stay fresh, and the opponent will be gassed by the fourth quarter.

And the defense? Of course, it will suck. But how much worse could the defense possibly be? Only 2 teams allowed more points than last year’s Suns. And the Suns only missed the playoffs by 2 games (which, in terms of standings, equals a single loss to Utah).

Don’t be shocked when the Suns surprise a few people this fall by beating the beatable teams easily.

Don’t be shocked when Amare Stoudemire is voted the starting center for the West team.

And don’t be shocked when spring conversation takes on the tone of "they’re good, but they’d be more dangerous if they played a little better defense".

And wow, did the 2009-2010 work out even better than I'd hoped.

So how did Kerr do? By his own admission, he screwed up a few times.  Not everything pans out.  But he also did some pretty great things since the Dec. 2008:

  1. Bringing in J-Rich and Duds for Bell and Diaw
  2. Getting Shaq off the hooks, and returning the team to Nash's ultra-capable hands
  3. Hiring a coach with the same vision - deep rotation, develop youth, give a thought to team defense
  4. Signing Channing Frye on the cheap
  5. Re-signing the veteran leaders, Nash and Hill, at discounts
  6. Focusing on the process of improvement, rather than wins and losses

This was all Kerr's vision, from day one.  It just took 3 years to see it work in action.

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