Steve Kerr, 47, a former NBA guard and Phoenix Suns general manager, said he is excited about calling “the game of the year” at 7 p.m. Thursday as the Thunder hosts the defending champion Miami Heat on TNT. Marv Albert, Reggie Miller and reporter Craig Sager also will be part of TNT's broadcast team. Kerr discussed the teams in a phone interview this week:
Is the Thunder in better position to beat the Heat than it was in last year's Finals?
Well, on paper, no, because they don't have James Harden. And Harden is a better player than Kevin Martin, but obviously that is simplifying everything. I love the way they've grown this year and gotten better and the pieces definitely fit and they have a great thing going. They're definitely in position to challenge Miami and may knock them off. This will be a good test for them to see where they stand.
If you were Thunder coach Scott Brooks, what adjustments would you make for the Heat?
The big question in the (NBA) Finals and now is, how much do you play Kendrick Perkins? I think Kendrick is essential to Oklahoma City's success when they play the Spurs. They don't beat San Antonio last year without Kendrick guarding (Tim) Duncan. I understand his value, but I think against Miami it is counterproductive to have him on the floor for long stretches. I think part of Oklahoma City's success and part of Scott Brooks' success as a coach is his consistency in what he does and his loyalty to his guys and just the strength of the foundation that is there. But if you want to take the opposite view, you could say maybe he isn't flexible enough with going smaller and playing (Nick) Collison more and maybe even playing (Kevin) Durant at the four and playing Martin, (Russell) Westbrook and (Thabo) Sefolosha together with (Serge) Ibaka at the five. There are different things that they can try and might want to try, but it's a gray area. Nobody knows for sure, but I'd like to see, just as an observer, I'd like to see them play smaller against Miami and see what happens.
What do you see as the Thunder's main weaknesses?
I still want to see a more composed version of Russell Westbrook. I think the internal improvement there really starts with him, both with his offensive efficiency — there is no reason why he should shoot 41 percent; he's just too good of a player — and there is just no reason for his tantrums. It may not kill them as a team. They are so mature that they seem to weather those emotional outbursts, but it's not helping them. I'd like to see him just show a little better leadership and maturity, and I think that's probably the next step for him and the team as a whole, just seeing how they can make that improvement emotionally.
Are you surprised Kevin Martin has fit in so well?
I am. I thought they would miss Harden more, and who knows, they might if they get to the (NBA) Finals and they don't have his ability to break down the defense. Maybe at that stage you look back and say, ‘Boy, we miss James.' It's remarkable how well they adapted without him and how well Kevin has played and how smoothly he has fit in to what he's doing.
Is there more pressure on the Thunder this season?
That's the curse of being where the Thunder is now. They've been on the rise. It's been this great ride and every successful step forward is so fun to watch, but now the only thing is to win the title. If you don't win it, you feel like a failure. It's a horrible thought, but that's really true. It's hard to get away from it. That's the next step for them.
What's your impression of the amazing offensive streak LeBron James is on?
It's probably his best run ever in terms of offensive efficiency. He has just gotten streamlined with his game. He is as smart as he is athletic. He has always been a smart player, but now he's almost like a genius player. If you think back four years ago, he used to bail the defense out with a lot of long-range threes. He didn't always make the best decisions offensively. Now he seems to make great decisions on every play.
Who would you pick as league MVP at this point?
I would still take LeBron because of his work at both end of the floor. LeBron is 1-A and Kevin (Durant) is 1-B. I think Kevin is going to win because the history of this award is the voters seem to get a sentimental pick and they like to take the new guy. Even though I think LeBron is the best player and deserves it, I think Kevin is going to be the popular pick and I think he's going to win it.
How is this Heat team different from the one in last year's Finals?
Well, it's basically the same team except that they haven't played Joel Anthony as much. So I think they are better offensively and worse defensively. They are a little bit more vulnerable on the glass. They have really made a commitment to playing LeBron at the four and playing small and spreading the court and making it really difficult on you with your defensive coverage. All those 3-point shooters and LeBron having all that floor to attack. As a result of going smaller for longer stretches, there are times were they can be vulnerable on the glass, and teams like Indiana and Utah have been able to expose that and really pound them inside.