OAKLAND, Calif. -- Alvin Gentry was hired as the New Orleans Pelicans head coach while he was still a Golden State Warriors assistant, embroiled in the NBA Finals. At the time, Steve Kerr joked about the advantage of having "two head coaches" at once. Now, another Warriors lead assistant is off to greener (as in money) pastures, this time with Luke Walton taking the Lakers job.
Kerr was instrumental in Walton’s advancement. Not just because Kerr hired him, but because he backed him when faced with organizational pressure.
Ownership was more than open to replacing Gentry with an experienced coach, but Kerr used his political capital to invest in a 35-year-old Walton. It retrospect, this doesn’t seem particularly bold, or even a big deal. At the time, it was huge bet. It was also an especially scary proposition for the Warriors when Kerr had to take a health-induced leave of absence. Quickly, though, it was apparent the wager on Walton would pay off handsomely. That 24-0 start quelled critics within and outside the organization, and attracted attention from teams in need of a coach.
The assumption is that Jarron Collins, the current, feted Warriors assistant, is next in line for an eventual head coaching job. Also, if you’re into this kind of career speculation, don’t sleep on the rise of young Golden State assistants Chris DeMarco, Nick U'Ren and Theo Robertson. All three have drawn raves from Kerr as they have garnered increasing responsibility in the organization. These are early days, but we could be seeing an NBA version of the 1994 Cleveland Browns, an incubator for coaches that will spread its influence further as the years pass.
This has been an unexpected aspect of the Kerr era. When he arrived, it was a controversial choice because of a perceived lack of experience. It wasn’t assumed the neophyte would soon act as mentor to future coaches.
Success has changed that, combined with Kerr’s philosophy of hiring young and promoting from within. So how will the Warriors replace Luke Walton? They will likely do it with another young coach, gaining the trust and investment Walton received in his time here. Beyond that, there’s another implication: Kerr isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There was speculation (not in these parts) that Kerr might step down and tap Walton to replace him in Golden State. It’s clear that isn’t the plan now. Instead, the plan is for Kerr to mentor the next Luke Walton, and the Luke Walton after that.