Steve Kerr And The Value Of An NBA Coaching Candidate

12
May

A rumor recently broke that Steve Kerr, one of the top NBA coaching candidates this offseason, is asking for a whopping 5-year, $30 million dollar contract. If you take a look at our handy-dandy NBA coaches contracts page, you’ll see that $6 million per year would tie him with Gregg Popovich as the second highest paid coach in the league (behind Doc Rivers). That’s right, Popovich, the coach with the all-time record for most consecutive winning seasons (16), the four-time NBA champion, and the three-time NBA Coach of the Year would be getting paid the same amount as a guy who might have once coached his nephew’s rec-league team when the head coach was running late.

So what justifies this sort of impressive contract? Well I would like to start by saying that someone is welcome to ask for as much money as they want and in fact, I encourage it. Coming out of college, I requested $200k at every job interview (I didn’t get many offers). There’s been no indication that Kerr won’t sign for anything less than $30 million spread over 5 years, that’s just what he’s asking for. So no one should be getting upset that the man wants to get paid. The question is, should the Knicks (or whatever team Kerr ultimately ends up at) even be considering $6 million a year as a feasible option for Kerr’s services.

What’s not being taken into consideration by many who’ve dismissed this as an unrealistic amount is the branding that comes along with a coach, especially in a major market like New York. Hiring Jason Kidd to coach the Nets wasn’t just because Kidd was the most knowledgeable candidate, but because Nets fans loved to watch Kidd play. When Phil Jackson was coaching the Lakers (and the Bulls) there was a personality on the sidelines that fans could fully support. That simply wasn’t in place when Woodson was coaching the Knicks. Kerr’s time as a broadcaster has solidified him as not only one of the smartest analysts, but one of of the most likable. While I’m personally a fan of Jeff Van Gundy, I see how he’s a polarizing figure. The same can’t be said for Kerr. Kerr has been able to add to games through his commentary while remaining well-reasoned and moderate enough to avoid angering many fans. I feel that you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that has been turned off by Kerr’s commentary. Fans are familiar with him, and for the most part, they like him. Being known by the majority of a team’s fans without being hated is no small feat. That may not be the first requirement when selecting a sideline leader, but it’s certainly something that’s important for a franchise trying to build/retain a fan base.

Of course, you can’t talk about a coaching candidate without talking about their ability to actually coach. Then again, that’s where Kerr is a complete unknown, so there’s really nothing to do other than speculate. He did well enough in the front office, though not exceptionally, and he seems to know his stuff as an analyst. He was a smart player on the court and has plenty of experience winning, but there’s no telling whether that will really relate to a coaching position. Basically, for anyone to hire Kerr at all is to be taking a chance. It’s a chance that I think will pay off, but it’s a chance nonetheless.

As a staunch defender of the merits of a free market, I think that someone’s worth exactly what someone else is willing to pay them. So until Kerr signs on the dotted line, I can’t honestly say if he’s worth this rumored figured. What I can say is that I wouldn’t be paying a first-time NBA coach anywhere near that amount, or giving him a four (possibly five) year contract, especially when there’s plenty of other options for quality coaches.

Potential Cheaper Options

Fred-hoiberg-story-body

We already have an article detailing some of the more intriguing coaching candidates this off-season, so if you’re interested in reading why certain coaches might be good fits, read that article. Below, I’m going to focus much more on ones that are cheaper options, regardless of whether I think they can out-coach Kerr.

Mark Jackson: Obviously Jackson won’t be filling the vacancy left by his own firing in Golden State, but for the other available jobs, including New York, I don’t see how he can be anything other than a top choice. He was only making $2 million a year with the Warriors, so he’s definitely a cheaper option than Kerr at this point. Granted, that was his contract from his first job, but still, even with a little raise he’ll be much more affordable.

Fred Hoiberg: I’m a bit biased about Freddy Hoiberg, since he was one of my favorite players in the early 2000s (yes, the Bulls were that bad), but he’s done an incredible job coaching the Cyclones of Iowa State. Recently he got a raise, perhaps as an effort to get him to stay in the NCAA. Still, that raise only bumped him to $2.2 million,1 which is far from $6 million a year. He’s signed through 2023 when his contract will be up to $3 million, but if an NBA team comes knocking, I don’t think he’d have too many problems leaving Ames behind. 

Derek Fisher: Another potential first-time coach, there’s no way Fisher would command much more than $2 million a year. I’d say the best comparison is Jason Kidd who is making $2.5 million, and Fisher is slightly lower profile, so he doesn’t have the same branding possibilities.

Stan Van Gundy: Probably the second most popular name of the off-sesason, Van Gundy is by no means a budget candidate, last making around $4.25 million in Orlando. Still, that’s cheaper than $6 million a year, and there’s a lot that you can do with an extra $1.75 million.

Kevin Ollie: Another guy that would be new to coaching in the NBA, UCONN coach Kevin Ollie has been rumored for a few positions, most notably the Lakers’ job. He’s set to make $1.25 million this year,2  so even with the bump that’s likely from taking the leap to the show, he’d still be a very affordable option, especially for how capable he is.

It’s been reported that Kerr will make his decision today,3 so we’ll possibly be hearing the details of this contract very soon. While a hefty payday won’t necessarily revolutionize the way coaches are hired, it’s sure going to have a lot of experienced coaches feeling a little less content when their paychecks come in next month.


  1. from SB Nation http://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2014/4/11/5604782/iowa-state-gives-fred-hoiberg-a-salary-boost 

  2. according to UCONN (who should know) http://www.uconnhuskies.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/122912aab.html 

  3. a complete rumor of course – http://nba.si.com/2014/05/09/steve-kerr-new-york-knicks-golden-state-warriors-monday/ 

About the author: Alex Lowe

A former college athlete in a sport that no one cared about, Alex now spends most of his days being a furiously biased Bulls and Braves fan. When he's not busy with that, he still imagines his 5'7" self making an improbable rise to NBA stardom.