CHICAGO – When Steve Kerr was a star senior guard at the University of Arizona in 1988, students at a game at rival Arizona State shouted, “PLO, PLO,” and “Go back to Beirut” at Kerr.
Kerr’s father, Malcolm, the president of the American University of Beirut, had been assassinated by terrorists outside his office a few years before.
Steve Kerr can handle working for the New York Knicks and the media in New York City.
The larger question is whether he would want to.
Kerr is considered the front runner to be Phil Jackson’s first coach in Jackson’s reign as president of the organization.
Mike Woodson, as expected, was let go, and it certainly was appropriate. Though less for the way the Knicks were a major disappointment and underachieving team this season.
Actually, because Woodson lost control of the team and it sunk out of the playoffs, it’s a much better job for someone like Kerr.
The Knicks, at least as presently comprised, have enough talent to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference next season without making any major changes. Of course, that assumes Carmelo Anthony resigns. That would give the new coach a honeymoon of sorts by showing progress.
And then the Knicks would have substantial room under the salary cap in the summer of 2015 to pursue the major free agents. The speculation remains that if the Knicks’ roster is reasonable that LeBron James would go to New York.
Though there’s much that can occur before then. And you can be sure the Heat and Pat Riley know this and will have a proposal to keep James.
After all, the way the Eastern Conference playoffs are progressing, the Heat look like a slam dunk to get to the NBA Finals once again.
Jackson’s first job with the Knicks has been to clear out as much of the old regime as possible. Then he has to bring in as many people as possible close to him and who share his philosophy of the game.
Kerr fits in that latter category in having played for Jackson with the Bulls during their last three championships, being comfortable with the triangle offense Jackson believes in and having experience running an NBA team as general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
Though Kerr never has coached, he’s expressed to friends in recent years a desire to coach instead of being an executive. And it no longer is an obstacle to coaching by not serving an apprenticeship as an assistant.
Jason Kidd this season went directly from playing to coaching and has sustained.
Mark Jackson went directly from broadcasting to coaching and has turned around the Golden State Warriors.
Doc Rivers is regarded as one of the game’s best coaches. He never coached before taking over the Orlando Magic and was Coach of the Year his rookie season. It no longer is an issue.
It would be for Kerr the ideal starting point.
He actually has been mentioned as a potential successor to Mark Jackson in Golden State as Jackson supposedly has clashed with ownership even as well as Jackson has done with Warriors. So a change is always possible.
But the best situation for a coach is when not only you are working in concert with management but management has your back for support.
Kerr understands this best as he came in as general manager and clashed with then- coach Mike D’Antoni. The ideal situation is to come in at the same time as the general manager (or president) and have a previous relationship.
Kerr has that with Jackson and they’ve been friendly since their times in Chicago.
It would seem a long shot, but if the Houston Rockets lose their first playoff series (that’s not the long shot), I could see Jackson offering Carmelo Anthony in a sign-and-trade to the Rockets for Dwight Howard.
It would seem ridiculous for the Rockets after acquiring Howard as the move of the summer of 2013 to trade Howard. But Houston has center Omer Asik and Howard always wanted to play for Jackson in Los Angeles.
One of the reasons Howard left was because the Lakers did not hire Jackson. And the reason Jackson changed his mind then and would return to coach was that the Lakers acquired Howard. Jackson prefers to build with a big man.
The Rockets have a big man. They need another scorer.
Who better to be with James Harden than Carmelo Anthony?
Yes, there’s plenty of intrigue to come this summer.
The larger issue with Kerr is family.
His two older children are playing college sports on the West Coast of the U.S., just about 4,500 km from New York.
His youngest son is finishing high school in California. So his family likely would not move with him.
As a TV broadcaster for Turner Network, Kerr is able to be home often. As coach of the New York Knicks, Kerr rarely ever would be home.
That would be difficult for such a committed family man who gets away and constantly is at the games of his children.
The head coaching job of the New York Knicks is an ideal situation for Kerr, a team that has bottomed out and will get much better working for the greatest winner in American pro sports in the largest media market and for a close friend and mentor.
But given the family circumstances, I would not be surprised if Kerr decided, “Maybe next time.”
Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”