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Steve Kerr Was Justifiably Irked About Being Misquoted To Make Kevin Durant Look Bad

Steve Kerr giving Kevin Durant some in-game instructions.
Photo: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area kicked a hornet’s nest on Monday when he engaged in the typically unremarkable Twitter engagement strategy of aggregating a noteworthy quote from a podcast. Shiller took a chunk of Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s recent appearance on The Ringer NBA Show—not a boo-boo on its own—and attempted to add context. While Kerr did say the part in quotes verbatim, Shiller’s framing of the coach’s quote around his relationship with Kevin Durant was plainly wrong.

Durant appeared in the replies to say that he was actually laughing. The whole exchange could be misread as proof that Kerr and Durant loathed each other, that the Durant-era Warriors’ chemistry was more volatile than fans knew, or that Durant still harbors some serious animus towards the organization.

But Kerr wasn’t talking about Durant at all. He was comparing the wholly different vibes of the Warriors’ high-stress 2018-19 campaign, and the gap year that followed. Here’s what he said:

That last year things kinda went haywire, and so even though we went to the Finals, it was difficult. I enjoyed last season, when we had the worst record in the league, more than I enjoyed that last season when we went to the Finals, because we had young guys last year who were trying every day, working hard, we had a great energy, great spirit, great camaraderie. And losing sucked, but what you want is a good vibe, and you wanna look forward to going to the gym everyday and seeing everybody. And that last year was tough, it really was tough, the last year when we lost to Toronto in the Finals. There was just a lot going on, some that you know about and some that you don’t. That was very difficult. Every year is unique, and you try to enjoy each one for what it is.

The Ringer NBA Show

Taken as a whole, Kerr is saying that it was easier to coach a 15-50 D-League team than it was to face the pressure of a three-peat, mitigate the internal tensions of a locker room stocked with big personalities, and manage a severely depleted and tired squad trying to limp over the line. What he is not saying, unless you read too much into his line about “a lot going on,” is that he’d rather lose a ton of games than coach Kevin Durant. Kerr and the hosts talked about Durant later in the podcast, and anyone could have just as easily taken a positive quote from a later portion of the episode and crafted the opposite narrative. “Everybody with Golden State is genuinely happy for Kevin because of the kind of person he is and what he did for the organization,” Kerr said at one point.

After the Warriors’ loss to the Grizzlies on Monday night, Kerr was furious with Shiller. He brought the tweet up on his own and spoke for over three minutes, expressing his ire at being taken out of context. “I’m going to do plenty of things that you can criticize and I deserve it,” Kerr said. “But to take that comment and put it into a tweet and send it into the universe was so irresponsible and damaging, and I’m angry.” He was later proven right that sports TV yakkers would tee off on his comment.

Kerr might have been especially angry in his complaint since he’s built a reputation as a player’s coach, and appearing to take a shot at a former player out of bitterness undermines that image. The Warriors coach has been notably effusive when praising opposing players. Part of why he’s cemented himself as one of the best and most well-regarded coaches in the NBA is due to a consistent body of work of honesty and self-reflection. Taken out of context, Kerr could seem to be saying that the only player he doesn’t truly respect is Kevin Durant, but he’s said only positive things about his former player in the years since.

Late Monday night, Shiller apologized, printed the podcast quote in full, and said that he’d called Kerr to say sorry.

That era of the Warriors has had its chemistry as scrutinized as any squad since the early LeBron James-era Heat teams. Durant is one of the best one-on-one players in the league, while the Warriors relied on passing and motion, and both he and his new teammates had to make accommodations for each other on the court. Off the court, Durant has admitted to being uncomfortable with how his teammate Steph Curry was covered, as well as the intense media pressure on the Warriors, much of which concerned the team’s volatile chemistry. Durant and Draymond Green often clashed, with Green once yelling, “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch,” to Durant, then yelling, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.”

That’s another reason why Kerr might have been so quick and vocal in his pushback. There’s been consistent interest in the deconstruction of the Warriors, since it centers debates around the relative limits of individual talent and team harmony, Green’s worth as a leader, and the relative standings of Curry and Durant, two of the best and most different superstars in the NBA. For my money, there’s not that much mystery to it. Durant joined the team that gave him the best shot at a title, he won two, and then the salary cap, team dynamics, and the chance to play with his friends all factored into him leaving. Those back-to-back titles mean the experiment worked.