SAN FRANCISCO — Nicholas Kerr knows he didn’t get here all by himself.
“I would never have gotten into the NBA without a family connection,” the recently promoted Santa Cruz Warriors head coach said during an hour-long conversation over lunch last week.
That family connection, after all, is his nine-time NBA champion father Steve, who has won four titles as the Golden State Warriors’ head coach.
The younger Kerr has always worried some about the outside perception that he may be a product of nepotism. It’s only gotten worse, he said, as he worked his way up from a video coordinator on his father’s staff to now. So much so that Kerr deleted the Twitter app off his phone before his recent promotion was announced earlier this month.
“I don’t blame anyone for saying I have privilege, they’re right,” Kerr said as he leaned back in his chair at Gott’s Roadside. “… I had not even a crack in the door, I had the door wide open for me.”
Others within the Warriors also wondered what people might think of a father-son duo taking the reins of an organization’s two teams, especially since Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s two sons, Kirk and Kent, both hold prominent positions in the front office.
One of the two people who promoted Kerr from the SeaDubs’ top assistant to the team’s next head coach sees it differently.
“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 — with the natural progression — would become a head coach.”
Cooper, who preceded Kerr in the Santa Cruz job before a summer promotion, worked with Dave Fatoki, who oversees the SeaDubs, in selecting the team’s next head coach. They interviewed a dozen candidates for the job, but Cooper said Kerr’s familiarity with the Warriors’ system as well as his ability to foster relationships gave him an edge.
“We wanted to make sure that everything kind of made sense,” Cooper said. “You can’t not take into account who he is, but we just kept coming back to he was the best candidate of everyone we talked to.”
After playing three seasons at the University of San Diego and one at Cal, Kerr initially sought out to make a name for himself in the coaching realm by going to a different organization. He took a lower-level position on Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio for the 2017-18 season.
But when the Spurs and Warriors met in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Kerr found himself in what he considered a lose-lose situation.
“It was so miserable,” said Kerr, who didn’t want to cheer against his father while working for the rival team. “I was so torn. They had Steph [Curry] and [Kevin Durant]. Like, if they lose in the first round to us, it’s a major disappointment… so that part sucked.”
The Warriors would go on to win 4-1 and eventually sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for their third ring in four years. But that experience stiffened Kerr’s desire to get back on the same team as his blood.
“If I had a chance to go back, I needed to go back,” Kerr said.
Santa Cruz Warriors assistant coach Nicholas Kerr at a practice during the 2022-23 season. (Photo: Courtesy of Golden State Warriors)
The following offseason, Kerr took a job as an assistant video coordinator on the Warriors staff, where he stayed for four years. After a mentally grueling COVID-disrupted season, Kerr was offered the opportunity to serve on Santa Cruz’s coaching staff for the G League bubble in 2021.
Those six secluded weeks changed Kerr’s perception of the NBA’s effective minor league.
“Up to that point, I didn’t understand the value of the G League, I didn’t understand how much fun it would be,” Kerr said.
Kerr liked being more involved in practice and working more closely with players. He also enjoyed taking on more responsibilities: The Warriors’ G League coaching staff is made up of four people compared to the NBA-level group, which includes more than a dozen assistants.
After the bubble, Kerr was set on staying with Santa Cruz, a decision his father and many others within the organization supported.
It didn’t take long before Kerr and his wife, Kendall, fell in love with the charming coastal town.
“I never planned on being a head coach,” Kerr said. “I thought I’d do that for a couple years and come back to Golden State.”
“I think I’m the only person that wants to stay in the G League,” he said.
As Cooper’s lead assistant last year, Kerr was in charge of managing the rotation and substitutions as well as helping handle players on assignment in Santa Cruz with two-way or NBA contracts. Kerr’s work in that role earned Cooper’s support for the promotion to head coach.
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“Ever since I first met him, you can always tell that he really cared about it, worked hard at it and wanted to get better and learn,” Cooper said. “Definitely wasn’t taking any shortcuts to being a coach.”
Several current NBA head coaches got their start in the G League, including Memphis Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Mark Daignealt and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chris Finch. Recently promoted Warriors assistant Kris Weems was the Santa Cruz head coach for two seasons before getting the big league call.
Kerr isn’t sure whether that’s a path he wants to take just yet.
“I don’t know that I want to eventually be an NBA head coach,” Kerr said. “… I’ve seen what his job is like, I’m not dying to do that.”
Kerr instead said he may prefer coaching overseas or heading up an NBA player development department one day.
This year, however, his goals are pretty simple and clear.
“Just don’t screw it up,” he said with a smile.