Nicholas Kerr was named the new head coach of Santa Cruz earlier this month.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nicholas Kerr is well aware that he did not arrive here by himself.
“I would never have gotten into the NBA without a family connection,” the recently promoted Santa Cruz Warriors head coach said last week over lunch.
After all, his nine-time NBA champion father, Steve, has won four championships as the Golden State Warriors’ head coach.
The younger Kerr has always been concerned about the public perception that he is a product of nepotism. It’s only gotten worse for him as he’s progressed from video coordinator on his father’s staff to now. So much so that before his recent promotion was announced earlier this month, Kerr deleted the Twitter app from his phone.
“I don’t blame anyone for saying I have privilege, they’re right,” Kerr said, leaning back in his chair at Gott’s Roadside. “… I didn’t even have a crack in the door; I had it wide open for me.”
Others within the Warriors wondered what people would think of a father-son duo running an organization’s two teams, especially since Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s two sons, Kirk and Kent, are both prominent figures in the front office.
One of the two people who promoted Kerr from top assistant to the SeaDubs’ next head coach has a different opinion.
“If anything, it honestly might’ve worked against him,” Warriors director of player development Seth Cooper said. “You look at a guy who might’ve spent time on the Golden State staff in the video and player development world and then was an assistant coach, and last year, [the] top assistant with us in Santa Cruz, that person would — with the natural progression — become a head coach.”
Cooper, who served as Santa Cruz’s interim head coach before being promoted in the summer, collaborated with SeaDubs general manager Dave Fatoki in selecting the team’s next head coach. Cooper said they interviewed a dozen candidates for the job, but Kerr’s familiarity with the Warriors’ system, as well as his ability to foster relationships, gave him an advantage.
“We wanted to make sure that everything kind of made sense,” Cooper explained. “You can’t ignore who he is, but we just kept coming back to the fact that he was the best candidate out of everyone we talked to.”
Kerr initially sought to make a name for himself in the coaching realm by going to a different organization after playing three seasons at the University of San Diego and one at Cal. For the 2017-18 season, he worked as a lower-level assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio.
But when the Spurs and Warriors met in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Kerr saw it as a lose-lose situation.
“It was so miserable,” Kerr said, explaining that he didn’t want to cheer against his father while working for the opposing team. “I was torn.” Steph Curry and Kevin Durant were there. Like, if they lose to us in the first round, it’s a huge disappointment… so that part sucked.”
The Warriors went on to win 4-1 and then sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for their third championship in four years. But that experience hardened Kerr’s resolve to rejoin the same team as his blood.
“If I had the chance, I needed to go back,” Kerr said.
Kerr joined the Warriors’ staff as an assistant video coordinator the following offseason, where he stayed for four years. Kerr was offered a position on Santa Cruz’s coaching staff for the G League bubble in 2021 after a mentally taxing COVID-interrupted season.
Kerr’s perception of the NBA’s effective minor league was altered during those six isolated weeks.
“Up to that point, I didn’t understand the value of the G League, or how much fun it would be,” Kerr said.
Kerr enjoyed being more involved in practice and collaborating with players. He also enjoyed taking on more responsibilities: the Warriors’ G League coaching staff consists of four people, as opposed to the NBA-level group, which consists of more than a dozen assistants.
Kerr was adamant about staying with Santa Cruz after the bubble burst, a decision his father and many others within the organization supported.
Kerr and his wife, Kendall, quickly fell in love with the charming coastal town.
“I never planned on being a head coach,” Kerr admitted. “I thought I’d do that for a couple of years and then come back to Golden State.”
But what about now?
“I believe I’m the only one who wants to stay in the G League,” he explained.
Kerr was Cooper’s lead assistant last year, managing the rotation and substitutions as well as assisting with players on assignment in Santa Cruz with two-way or NBA contracts. Kerr’s performance in that role earned Cooper’s endorsement for the position of head coach.
“Ever since I met him, you could tell he was passionate about it, worked hard at it, and wanted to get better and learn,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t going to take any shortcuts when it came to being a coach.”
Several current NBA head coaches, including Memphis Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Mark Daignealt, and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chris Finch, got their start in the G League. Kris Weems, a recently promoted Warriors assistant, was the head coach of Santa Cruz for two seasons before being called up to the big leagues.
Kerr isn’t sure if that’s the route he wants to take just yet.
“I’m not sure I want to be an NBA head coach someday,” Kerr said. “… I’ve seen what his job entails, and I’m not looking forward to it.”
Kerr, on the other hand, stated that he might prefer coaching overseas or running an NBA player development department one day.
This year, however, his objectives are simple and straightforward.
“Just don’t screw it up,” he said, smiling.