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Kerr's return ‘up in the air’ for Warriors in Finals

Anthony Slater
The Mercury News

Oakland, Calif. — Steve Kerr made a surprise appearance in front of reporters after the Warriors’ practice on Monday, filling in for his fill-in, Mike Brown, who was out with the flu.

Kerr updated his own health status in an 11-minute interview with reporters, saying he’s still unsure whether he will coach Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers on Thursday night, though it sounds unlikely.

“No. As of right now, I would not coach Thursday night,” Kerr said. “But it’s still up in the air. Waiting for that ‘ahhhhhh’ (moment). It’s coming.”

It sounds like Kerr has set a deadline for himself, saying he doesn’t want it to be a night-by-night decision about whether he can return to the sideline throughout the Finals. He wants to make a firm decision, either way, before Game 1 tips off.

But just the appearance and availability of Kerr was the latest sign that he’s feeling a bit better by the day. Kerr hadn’t addressed reporters since late April in Portland.

“I’m OK. I’m all right. I’m not well enough to coach a game. I know that because I coached all 82 games and I felt OK. I’m comfortable, in a lot of pain, but I did fine,” Kerr said. “Then the first two games of the Portland series, whatever happened, things got worse. You saw me in the fourth quarter of Game 2. I could not sit still in my chair. There was that much pain. I would say I’ve gotten a little bit better. That’s why I’m here talking to you right now. But you can probably tell, I’m not sitting here happy-go-lucky.”

After leaving the sidelines during the Portland series, Kerr spent the next few weeks searching for health answers to the chronic pain that has terrorized him since a back surgery went bad two years ago. During the Jazz series, he didn’t travel to Salt Lake City, instead going to the Duke Medical Center in North Carolina for a procedure.

But starting right before the Western Conference Finals, Kerr returned to the facility on a regular basis, became more involved in coaching meetings and took part in practices. During Games 1 and 2 against the Spurs, he was mic’d up at halftime delivering a speech to the team.

During Games 3 and 4, he traveled to San Antonio and remained around. He said, no matter if he’s coaching or not, he will travel to Cleveland with the team in the Finals.

“Every meeting since the San Antonio series. Every film session. Every practice,” Kerr said. “I address the team quite a bit. I think my messaging is important and we’ve found the right balance between, OK, I’ll help out here but I’m not going to be on the sidelines during the game and Mike and the rest of the staff have done a great job. It is awkward. It is weird. But we’re doing OK.”

And the team has thrived despite the absence of Kerr, going 10-0 under the guidance of Brown as they swept their way through the West.

“Mike’s been amazing,” Kerr said. “It’s an awkward situation for anyone to be in. This is so unique. I’m not sure this has ever happened. Maybe in football — I remember Chuck Pagano a few years ago with the Colts was out. Because on the one hand, Mike has to coach the team as he sees fit.

“I’m taking part in practices, helping with the messaging, taking part in coaching meetings, but I’m not on the sidelines during games. So he has to make those decisions as if it’s his team. But he’s also taking my advice and counsel behind the scenes. It’s not easy, but he’s obviously doing a good job. There seems to be a theme when I am out. We’re something like 108-2. So I’m not sure what it is.”

Kerr said the hope is that Brown will return to practice on Tuesday after this battle with the flu.

“The good news is the team’s healthy,” Kerr said. “But the bad news is, the coaches are dropping like flies.”

NBA Finals

Golden State vs. Cleveland

All games on ABC

Thursday: at Golden State, 9 p.m.

Sunday: at Golden State, 8 p.m.

Wednesday, June 7: at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

Friday, June 9: at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

x-Monday, June 12: at Golden State, 9 p.m.

x-Thursday, June 15: at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

x-Sunday, June 18: at Golden State, 8 p.m.

x-If necessary