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Kerr the constant as Warriors dynasty endures
Kerr the constant as Warriors dynasty endures / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Kerr the constant as Warriors dynasty endures

Eight years that have seen the Golden State Warriors rise and fall and rise again have featured one constant in "visionary" head coach Steve Kerr.

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Under Kerr's guidance, the Warriors are the first franchise to reach the NBA Finals six times in an eight-season span since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls from 1991-98.

Kerr played on the last three of those Bulls' title teams and claimed two more championships as a player with the San Antonio Spurs.

Now he's aiming for his fourth title as a head coach, after masterminding the Warriors' five straight trips to the Finals from 2015-19 that yielded three titles.

"Steve is a leader of us," shooting guard Klay Thompson said after the Warriors completed their Western Conference finals triumph over the Dallas Mavericks. "He's just an incredible visionary when it comes to thinking basketball.

"There's a reason he's been around so much winning his whole life because he's just that type of person who just gravitates towards greatness," Thompson said.

"I'm so grateful to play for a coach like Steve. He's a real player's coach.

"He's just an incredible person," Thompson added of the coach who has earned respect off court for his passionate and thoughtful commentary on social issues such as racism and gun violence.

Thompson, a lynch-pin of the Warriors' title runs in 2015, 2017 and 2018, returned in January for his first game since tearing a left knee ligament in game six of the 2019 NBA Finals.

More than 17 months later he tore his right Achilles tendon.

Thompson's extended absence was just one of the devastating blows that many expected to end the Warriors' dynasty, along with Kevin Durant's decision to bolt to Brooklyn after the 2019 season.

With superstar Stephen Curry also battling injuries the Warriors endured a precipitous fall, posting the league's worst record in 2019-20.

They were eliminated in the play-in tournament in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign, when Curry noted that despite their struggles Kerr "makes everybody on the roster feel valued."

Kerr has needed that ability again this season, when injuries again threatened the Warriors' chances of returning to the top.

- 'Incredibly meaningful' -

Thompson played in just 32 games, Talismanic forward Draymond Green played in 46 as he struggled with back trouble.

Curry missed 18 games with a foot injury. James Wiseman, whose rookie season was cut short last April by a knee injury, didn't play at all.

"In the regular season, we literally never got our main guys on the floor at the same time until game one of the Denver series," Kerr noted. "So it was sort of a rocky path to get here, but I feel good about the process and our potential if we could get all of our key guys on the floor."

Amid the roster fluctuations, Andrew Wiggins earned his first All-Star nod and Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II emerged as solid contributors as the Warriors posted the third-best record in the league.

Kerr said working through the changes has made returning to the Finals all the more satisfying.

"We've done it before. But in a different way, it was incredibly meaningful given everything that we've been through organizationally over the last couple years," Kerr said.