Steve Kerr is no stranger to being surrounded by Hall of Famers. He was a reserve guard on a 1996-97 Chicago Bulls team that had four players — Michael Jordan, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman — eventually enshrined in Springfield, along with head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Tex Winter. He ended his playing career on a 2002-03 Spurs team that has already seen David Robinson go into the Hall of Fame, with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich certain to follow someday.
But even he has never seen a roster quite like this season’s Golden State Warriors.
“I’m well aware of how lucky I’ve been to basically inherit a team that had multiple Hall of Famers on the roster,” Kerr told ESPN recently with a laugh. “I probably wasn’t aware of it when I took the job, but it quickly became apparent how good these guys were.”
The Warriors’ starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins has combined for 19 All-NBA selections, 28 All-Star Game appearances, five scoring titles, five Olympic gold medals, three MVP awards and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Andre Iguodala comes off the bench with an All-Star appearance, an Olympic gold medal and a Finals MVP in his trophy case.
“When you start looking at this group, it’s pretty impressive where they could all end up,” Kerr said.
In the short term, the goal for Kerr is making sure they all end up hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy again in June — something that would seem to be a fait accompli after the addition of Cousins, but has in fact proven to be more difficult than anticipated.
When Cousins made his Warriors debut on Jan. 18, he was immediately inserted in a starting lineup that bore more resemblance to a Dream Team than a typical NBA lineup.
“I think our starting five could be a Team USA starting five,” Thompson said. “That’s how good it is. I’m very grateful to be in this position, not a lot of players ever experience something like this in any sport.”
For Cousins, who is still trying to get up to speed playing alongside the most talented teammates he has had in his career, the idea of playing with Hall of Famers is something he has come to terms with over the past few months.
“I kind of got past that part of it,” Cousins said with a smile. “Just kind of seeing them in the gym every day and thinking like that when I first got here. It’s fun. It’s fun to play with great players, it’s fun to play with guys with a lot of talent that know how to play the game.”
Since Cousins signed his one-year deal over the summer, Kerr has repeatedly pointed out that even with all the talent, the Warriors can’t expect to just roll out all these elite-level players and expect them to function well together. That idea has been prescient over the past couple of weeks as the Warriors have struggled to integrate Cousins into the lineup.
The Warriors are being outscored by four points in the 373 minutes Cousins has played since making his season debut. They’ve also been outscored by two points in the 151 minutes that Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Cousins have shared the court. But they’ve gone 12-3 when Cousins plays, and 11-1 with the full starting five, even though Cousins has recorded a negative plus/minus in eight of his 15 starts as he works his way back from the ruptured Achilles that ended his season a little more than a year ago.
Still, neither Cousins nor the rest of the Warriors are concerned about finding that cohesiveness before the playoffs begin in April. The 28-year-old knows this is a short-term arrangement, given his contract situation, so he wants to enjoy playing with this star-studded lineup for as long as he can.
“You see the talent in the room,” he said. “You hear some of the young guys around here they’re just mind-blown every day. I mean, at each position you can learn something from some guy that’s in the starting lineup.”
Cousins knows what it’s like to be on the other side. The nine-year veteran has never played a postseason game — he was injured for the New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff run last year — and played on some Sacramento Kings teams on which he was the only All-Star level player. Similarly, Curry came into the league on a Warriors team lacking high-level talent; no other player on the 2009-10 Warriors roster ever played in an All-Star Game.
“I’ve had plenty of moments where either KD does something crazy or Draymond makes a spectacular defensive play that leads to a transition 3 or Klay goes for 60 in three quarters, or Andre does what he does,” Curry said. “Where you have a true appreciation for what we all bring to the table, how special and talented everybody is.”
One of the reasons Curry appreciates those moments is that he understands how few more there could be. In addition to Cousins almost certainly signing somewhere else this summer, Durant has the option to leave as a free agent as well. Thompson has been open about wanting to stay, but his new contract still has to be worked out, and Green and the Warriors both have to decide if a long-term commitment is in their future.
“I have a hard time leaving the moment in terms of thinking about what’s going to happen after we’re all done playing and all that,” Curry admits. “I know KD talked about it a little bit, in terms of our jerseys will be in the rafters and statues and all that type of stuff. It’s a crazy thought to have if you want to go there, and probably accurate.”
The allure of the Hall of Fame is something that motivates each player in different ways, but it was Thompson, the most outwardly quiet of the group, who still remembers a conversation with then-Phoenix Suns GM Lance Blanks about his future that crystallized his basketball mission at the start of his career.
“I told him I want to make the Hall of Fame one day,” Thompson said. “He kind of like looked at me like, ‘Really?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I think any basketball player, that’s the dream, that’s the fantasy, but I try not to give it too much thought, man. I’m still on the middle of my career. I think I have 10 years of basketball left. So hopefully when it’s all said and done I’ll have a nice body of work.”
Basketball Reference has created a formula for “Hall of Fame Probability” based on players’ statistics, awards, championships and comparisons to past Hall of Fame voting patterns.
Durant, (100 percent probability) and Curry (99.9 percent), both just 30 years old, could retire today and be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Thompson (47.7 percent) already ranks as one of the greatest shooters of all time at just 29 years old and will almost certainly end up in the Hall when he retires. The 28-year-old Green (27.7 percent) and Cousins (1.3 percent) have accumulated some big honors already in their respective careers and will both have solid arguments for induction if they stay on a similar track, especially if they add a championship in June. Iguodala (6.1 percent) is the elder statesman of the group at 35, and has earned the kind of recognition as a three-time NBA champion that give him a strong case for enshrinement as well.
Still, the number of current Warriors who’ll eventually end up in Springfield isn’t something about which they’re currently thinking.
“I mean you have an appreciation for the team that you’re on, but I don’t necessarily think you’re ever like, ‘Oh man, I’m playing with Hall of Famers.’ That’s your normal,” Green said. “That’s your reality. So it just is what it is. Obviously, you have an appreciation for it, but it’s your normal.”
Iguodala echoed Green, saying that when the team is on the court, he in particular isn’t concerning himself with where they’ll end up at the end of their respective careers, but how to fit everyone together for the best possible result in the moment.
“I’m thinking like, ‘OK, I know [this player’s] flaws, so let me be in a position so his flaws aren’t exposed,” Iguodala said. “Weird s— like that. ‘OK, I know this move. And it’s best if I’m here, so if he gets in trouble I can be a bailout for him. And then I can get it back to him and he can get back to his spot. Then he can set a screen for this guy, or if he hasn’t had the ball in a while so let me invert and be here so I can flair or do something for him so he can be fine.’ I probably think about that too much actually.”
Durant, like Iguodala, considers himself a student of the game. He not only knows his teammates’ on-court tendencies, he also knows their résumés. Armed with that knowledge, Durant says he believes Golden State’s entire current starting five will end up in the Hall of Fame.
“You know what all these guys have been through and what they’ve done in the league, and it’s pretty much a lock, in my opinion,” he said. “Especially with the guys that have gotten in. You look at guys that have had four-year runs of playing well, five-year runs, of averaging 20 points a game. Cuz is playing at it, six years, seven years now. Steph been at it for nine, Draymond’s been at it for seven, [I’ve] been at it for 12, going into my 13th year. So I feel like everybody’s — after six years straight of doing what you’re doing you’re stamped in my opinion, especially at that level.”
Like most of his talented players, Kerr says he doesn’t worry about what might happen down the line. But Kerr, who racked up five NBA championships as a player and three more as coach of the Warriors, has become just as much of a slam dunk as Curry and Durant to wind up with a bust in basketball hallowed grounds. Still, the 53-year-old downplays his own significance within the history of the game.
“I’m well aware the amount of luck that goes into one’s coaching career,” Kerr said. “I was a Laker fan in 1982 in high school when Pat Riley went from the radio booth and inherited Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Magic [Johnson], [James] Worthy, and I’m sure Pat would tell you that jump-started his coaching career. Phil Jackson’s first [NBA] coaching job: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen. Not bad. And I compare my situation to theirs. And so I know how lucky I am.”
That sentiment, knowing how lucky they are to be in this position, is one Kerr says he believes his players share, and one he knows to lean on as the Warriors look to win a fourth championship in five years — something that hasn’t been done since the days of the Celtics in the 1960s.
But that’s an accomplishment the Warriors — who enter Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a record of 43-19 and atop the Western Conference — can’t achieve until June. In the meantime, they’ll continue trying to savor what they have this season and hope they can create even more memories in the future.
“We have guys with good balance in their lives,” Kerr said. “We would be lucky even if we were doing this and we were the worst team in the league, we’d be damn lucky, playing basketball for a living. All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on the internet to see how many people are suffering out there and struggling. So we live amazing lives, especially with the success and the talent and the type of people we have and the fact that we all get to be together every day during this journey. It’s amazing how fortunate we are.”