OAKLAND - When Brett Brown looked down the floor last night at Oracle Arena, he saw a former student of his during his assistant coaching days in San Antonio. One of Brown's favorite stories is about how Steve Kerr, now coach of the Golden State Warriors, came off the bench and helped the Spurs win a Western Conference final series against the Dallas Mavericks in 2003. The Spurs won the NBA title over the New Jersey Nets in six games.
He was also looking at a coach who inherited a dynamic team and had already put together 24 wins in 29 games. Brown, of course, won only 19 last season and four this season, heading into last night, as he oversees one of the biggest rebuilding projects in all of sports.
"He's very capable and I think when you look at his history as a player, as a general manager, you could hear his intellect when he commentated games and now he's a head coach," Brown said of Kerr. "To me, it all added up that he was going to be an excellent head coach. He was one of the first players that I personally saddled up with, with Manu [Ginobili] and [Bruce] Bowen and Steve, in my first year."
He then broke into the story about how Kerr, having barely played in the series up to that point, came off the bench in Game 6 when Tony Parker was limited because of food poisoning. Brown recalled the Spurs were down by 18 points late in the third quarter and Kerr came off the bench and drilled four three-pointers, starting a 23-0 run and a runaway win in the deciding game.
"He's the best," Kerr said. "He was kind of my guy. Players pair off with different assistant coaches and work. He put me through shooting drills. We'd play one-on-one, and he was one of the few guys that I could beat one-on-one on the staff, so I chose him. One of the things with coaching is not just get your elbow in [shooting], it's the spirit, and Brett's got such great energy and positive spirit. I loved working with him everyday. We had so much fun. We both had young families, young kids and we talked about other stuff besides basketball. He's just an amazing guy.
"I watch him on the sidelines now in this rebuilding project, going through a lot of losses, and his energy never wanes. He is so upbeat. He is the perfect coach for this group, because they have a lot of growth ahead of them, obviously a lot of potential, but there are obviously a lot of growing pains to go along with that. I can't imagine anybody bringing more life and energy to his team than Brett is with these guys. I saw back when I was working with him and under him and I see it now on the sidelines. He's terrific."
Despite not being fully recovered from a twisted ankle he suffered against Utah on Saturday night, Nerlens Noel was in the starting lineup against the Warrriors.
"He's still not even close to being 100 percent, but he will go tonight," Brown said. "Let him go. Try to be smart with it along the way, but just play him and feel him out."
Luc Mbah a Moute sat out his second game with a strain in his right calf. While Mbah a Moute insists it won't keep him out long, Brown is playing it very cautiously. It would be a surprise if Mbah a Moute gets back on the court before this road trip ends on Saturday at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Steve Kerr couldn't heap enough praise on two former Sixers on his roster, Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights. Iguodala is getting 27 minutes off the bench and averaging 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists, while Speights is Kerr's starting center, and getting 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.
"He's a basketball player and he gets it," Kerr said of Iguodala. "You can throw him out there with anybody, and he's going to organize the game. That was the idea with him."
As for Speights, the coach said: "I thought he would help us win some games. He's a big man who can shoot the ball and those aren't easy to find. Just looking at the roster when I took the job, I had a hard time finding playing time for him. I figured he'd help us when we had some injuries, but I didn't see him coming in and playing at this level this consistently. He's been fantastic. He's saved us three or four times singlehandedly, and been very consistent with his effort all the other games, as well. He's also a great teammate and a great guy to have around. I've enjoyed coaching him."