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Wolf: Kerr – When a profession gets personal

Steve Kerr said his departure from the Phoenix Suns was both “professional and personal.” I’ll take him at his word and ask you to forgive my suppositions.

You’ll also have to forgive my rage: but in the name of all that was good and righteous, what happened?

Steve Kerr was excited about coming back, vindicated by moves that panned out, making him look like an NBA savant. He was excited; the fun was back in the game. The previous 2-years had been washed away in an awe-inspiring second half of a magical season that saw the Suns gain the #3 seed in the Western Conference, host two playoff series (including the eviction of the San Antonio Spurs in four games), while taking the Los Angeles Lakers to six-games. It was a job well done and Mr. Kerr knew it.

He was excited; I saw it in his eyes during the Conference Finals in the Casino Arizona Pavilion. This was not a man looking for an exit.

The question lies at our feet like the still remains of a woodland mammal on the side of the road: What happened?

In my professional opinion this got personal.

The Shaquille O’Neal experiment didn’t work and Steve Kerr shouldered the blame in relative silence even though speculation’s better brain said Mike D’Antoni was behind that deal more than Kerr.

Mr. Kerr reacted professionally.

D’Antoni left in a huff and Steve Kerr was blamed for D’Antoni’s huffiness. Mike didn’t like Mr. Kerr’s questioning input and took things personally. Mike left.

Mr. Kerr reacted professionally.

In what was his low-point, Mr. Kerr brought in Terry Porter and that really cost the Suns and their fans a lot of pain and suffering. Not only did he have to fire his long time friend and former teammate but he, by proxy, had run a 60-win team into the ground.

Mr. Kerr reacted professionally.

But Steve Kerr made an amazing recovery, personally and professionally. He fired Porter and made Alvin Gentry the Interim Head Coach and eventually gave him the job on a full time basis; he traded two malcontents (Raja Bell and Boris Diaw) for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley; he brought Grant Hill into the fold; he re-signed Steve Nash; he drafted Robin Lopez and the kid proved he had a future; he crafted a trade for Goran Dragic, drafted the Slovenian and the guy turned into Wunderkind; he signed Channing Frye; he brought Lou Amundson in and placed him in the middle of a purple planet. He made all the right moves and the Phoenix Suns returned to glory.

Any Suns fan knows what these moves did for the franchise. They brought back Planet Orange and made us fall in love with this team again.

Mr. Kerr acted professionally but Steve seemed personally energized, ready to take on the responsibilities of job and duty.

But something happened on the way to Shawshank via Phoenix.

Mr. Kerr (Steve) and Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver have been in negotiations. I don’t think they went very well.

Mr. Kerr was apparently offered a one-year contract to stay at his current salary. There was also talk of a three-year deal that mirrored his previous contract, adding a bonus to the third year of that deal.

Mr. Kerr certainly couldn’t expect a great contract offer from the Suns. Times are tough league-wide and he was responsible for the losses incurred from the Terry Porter project.

All of this is well and good but the question remains, doesn’t it? What happened? Why did Steve Kerr sour on the job as quickly as he did?

To a man of integrity, how the contract is offered is often as important as the contract offer itself. Was it offered begrudgingly or given in good faith? Was there a well-met handshake and a hardy smile or a limp-wrist below a furrowed brow? When a man has options he can allow his convictions to control his career. He can afford to say no. He can do it his way.

“This is not a contract issue,” Kerr said at a news conference that Sarver did not attend Tuesday due to a prior commitment. “This is a career and personal decision that I’ve made.”

Personal indeed:

While in negotiations with Mr. Sarver, Steve wanted to be home in San Diego more with his family. Sitting around “The Big Rectangle” in a conference room made Steve suddenly appreciate the beauties of analysis and the stress free life of television. Discussing the merits of his work and defending his positions apparently sucked the satisfaction of this season from Steve’s bones and made him reconsider his profession, personally speaking.

I am not blaming Mr. Sarver for Mr. Kerr’s departure. Negotiations don’t always go well. It takes two to tangle (as we like to say in Buffalo). But I do know this, whatever happened:

Steve took it personally.