Steve Kerr participates in Warriors practice, no return to bench imminent

Steve Kerr addresses the media during an April practice. (AP)

The Golden State Warriors‘ 8-0 record in the 2017 NBA Playoffs is all the more remarkable for coming without their head coach. Steve Kerr has not manned the bench since Game 2 of his team’s first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers due to pain related to the same botched back surgery that kept him out for the start of the 2015-16 season. With few exceptions, he has also not had a major role in game-planning and practices.

Those roles have fallen to acting head coach Mike Brown and the rest of the Golden State staff, and the results suggest the squad hasn’t missed a beat. Until the Warriors face serious adversity, their success during Kerr’s leave of absence stands out as another way they’re not like most teams.

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It would not be a surprise if Kerr does not return to the Warriors bench before the end of the postseason. However, he appears to be feeling at least a little better ahead of Sunday afternoon’s start of the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Kerr was an active participant in Saturday’s home practice for the first time since starting his leave of absence on April 22. From Chris Haynes for ESPN:

It’s the first time Kerr has been at a home practice since he took a leave of absence in the middle of the first round to find a remedy for the pain he’s been dealing with stemming from back surgery he had almost two years ago.

For many on the team, it was the first time they had seen Kerr in nearly two weeks. […]

[Stephen] Curry said Kerr was semiactive today.

“He was one of the coaches in our pregame film, just giving his assessment of the series and things we need to do well,” he said. “Obviously, coach (Mike) Brown led most of it, but he was present.” […]

“For me, more than anything else, it was great to see him out here, especially during practice walking around, talking to guys,” Brown said. “You really enjoy that because he’s our leader. He’s the guy that laid the foundation and got everybody headed in the right directions. And so the more he can be around, the better feel that all of us have … it was good to see him out here today.”

Kerr actually was present in a coaches’ meeting Friday. The Warriors continue to say they do not know if Kerr will be back on the sideline this postseason.

To clarify, Kerr did not take on the full responsibilities of a head coach at Saturday’s practice. As descriptions like “semi-active” suggest, he’s just one of many voices contributing to the Warriors’ preparation for the Spurs. It may even be likely that he’s a relatively minor participant in that game-planning, although certainly a valued one.

Accordingly, the Warriors seem to be treating his partial return to practice as a strategic positive and emotional lift rather than a full-on comeback. Mike Brown is taking on the duties of the team’s head coach and very likely will for as long as Golden State remains in the postseason. Brown has attempted to graft his style onto Kerr’s foundation, and the results seem to be working out pretty well. That success is a credit to both the Warriors’ incredible talent and what Kerr has helped build — his greatest skills as a head coach are as a manager, not as an obsessive tactician.

For all those reasons, the most important takeaway from his return has little to do with its effect on the Warriors as they attempt to win a second title in three seasons. The best news is that Kerr is feeling better, and we hope his recovery continues apace.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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