For all of Steve Kerr's coaching virtues, managing egos might be his greatest strength. He may have his work cut out for him with Chris Paul, a fiercely proud Hall-of-Fame player who has started every single game over his 18-year career but is clearly better suited to come off the bench for the Warriors.
Paul was asked at Summer League about the possibility of his assuming a reserve role with Golden State, and instead of offering up the politically correct "I'll do whatever the team needs" answer, he pushed back by quipping "You coaching?" to the reporter who posed the question before going on to say he hasn't had any such discussion with Kerr.
There’s been no discussion between Chris Paul and Steve Kerr about Paul coming off the bench. “It’ll be a conversation when camp starts. Me and Steve have talked, but that ain’t something where it’s, ‘What up, man? You starting or coming off the bench.” pic.twitter.com/JYSO9hcHqE— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) July 10, 2023
You would think that 38-year-old men would be past the point of worrying about starter status. But ego is a big part of why these guys ascend to the levels they do. We watched Carmelo Anthony fight the forfeiture of his starter card before finally accepting his late-career bench fate with the Blazers, who benefitted, at times greatly, from what Anthony had left to give.
Paul still has a lot to give. He's the tailor-made second-unit orchestrator the Warriors lacked in the Jordan Poole days. Can he play alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? Of course he can. He's a natural point guard, and those are two of the greatest off-ball movers and shooters to ever live.
But that's a small lineup that would likely send Kevon Looney to the bench (Andrew Wiggins is starting, you can bank that) and put Draymond Green at center. Such a unit has more appeal as a closing lineup, but it's tough playing at that kind of size deficit for extended stretches.
There's a way, perhaps, to achieve both, starting Paul for a short stint only to sub him out early before the other starters take their rest, at which point Paul comes back to run the non-Curry minutes. Will Kerr jump through those hoops to appease Paul's ego, or will he be able to sell Paul on the idea of owning his bench role?
Remember, one of the signature moves of Kerr's Golden State tenure was moving Andre Iguodala, a career starter and borderline future Hall-of-Famer, into the sixth-man role that gave birth to the Death Lineup and in many ways would come to define Golden State's "Strength in Numbers" dynasty.
Paul, at this point, is not the two-way impact player Iguodala was back in 2014, but he could have a similar impact on the second-unit sturdiness of a Warriors team that still boasts championship-level top-end talent. Is he willing put his ego aside for the greater good?
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Again, he's literally never come off the bench. As The Athletic's Anthony Slater noted, "Paul has started all 1,363 NBA games he's ever played, the longest streak to start a career since before 1970." Hard is may be to understand for us outsiders, there is a point of basketball pride that comes with starting that lives at all levels and for many, if not most players, never goes away.
But winning at the highest level almost always involves sacrifice somewhere on the roster. Paul could be that guy this time around for the Warriors. It may take some delicate Kerr coaxing, but Paul coming off the bench sure seems like the most obvious fit on this particular team.
We'll see how it plays out early in the season, when perhaps Kerr will start Paul to smooth the transition before easing him toward the bench over time.