After choosing the Warriors over the Knicks, Steve Kerr went out of his way to insist that his decision had everything to do with family:
"It just felt like the right move on many levels," Kerr said by phone Wednesday. "They have a good young team. The location is ideal. My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It's just a short flight for them."
All of that is legitimate. As is the reported five year, $25-million deal the Warriors offered Kerr. (The Knicks only upped their offer to include a fourth year on Tuesday.) But while you can quantify proximity to home and contract length, you can't quantify the relief of not having to work under James Dolan.
The Knicks don't stop being the Knicks just because they hired Phil Jackson. A few weeks back, Jackson—who had supposedly been granted full autonomy by Dolan—was blocked by the owner from firing a number of employees. Just like how Donnie Walsh saw himself overruled on the Carmelo Anthony trade negotiations. If Kerr won't mention the problems implicit with ultimately answering to man with a history of poor decisions and a lack of boundaries, those around him are more than happy to.
"The Knicks' roster is not the problem," said a person close to Kerr. "The organization is the problem. It's chaos. The culture there is hard to change because so many don't want it to change. They all protect their turf."
It says everything about the Knicks that the Warriors seem functional by comparison. Golden State just fired a head coach who had long been clashing with the front office. An assistant was caught secretly recording conversations between coaches and players—and, many believe, sharing those recordings with management.
The Warriors have the better roster and more forgiving fans and reporters, so from a pure coaching point of view, it makes sense. Losing out on Kerr could also work out for the Knicks—devoid of context, giving $25 million and five years to a guy with zero head coaching experience sounds like the Knicksiest thing in the world. But you can't separate this from the context; that Phil Jackson failed in his first, very public task.
If Jackson's not going to actually coach the Knicks (though it's now a nonzero possibility again), he's supposed to be the organization's headhunter. If he couldn't land his first coaching option, a close, personal friend, how does that bode for luring a top free agent to the Knicks?
(It's a meaningful question. Jackson's got to convince Carmelo Anthony to take less money to stay in New York to afford a big free agency splash, and his only leverage is the promise of giving Anthony help. If Anthony doesn't believe that help is coming, he won't take less than the max, and in a self-fulfulling prophecy, the Knicks won't be able to beef up the roster. Perception is a big deal here.)
"When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no?" Kerr said, as rhetorically as humanly possible. You say no because Madison Square Garden is a Superfund site, one so toxic that the people who are supposed to be able to clean it up don't think the job can be done.