SUNS GENERAL MANAGER
A year after missing the playoffs, Phoenix beat Portland and San Antonio to advance to the Western Conference finals against the Lakers
Dan Patrick:How are you feeling?
Steve Kerr: A lot better than I was last year at this time.
DP:How close were you to trading [potential free agent] Amar'e Stoudemire to Cleveland at the deadline?
SK: Not very close. That's probably the hardest thing with the job these days: You can't have a single conversation without everything getting out there, so your business is on the Internet within minutes of a discussion. We had conversations with a lot of teams, but we never really came close to doing anything.
DP:Can you afford to re-sign Stoudemire?
SK: We can afford it. We'll spend money, that's not the question. We've got to make sure we spend it the right way. Hopefully we can get something done with Amar'e. That's the plan.
DP:Nobody had you guys going to the Western Conference finals. When did you realize this year was going to be different from last year?
SK: Well, I think the difference was right from the very beginning of the season, just watching our guys interact. Nine, 10 guys at a time going out to dinner on the road. You could just see it was 180 degrees from last year in terms of the camaraderie and the togetherness. I think that's how you build something. That gave us the foundation. We didn't have the belief though. Early in the year we were kind of surprised at our own success.
DP:Can the season be a disappointment from here on out?
SK: Definitely not. We thought we'd be a playoff team, but beyond that we didn't really allow ourselves to think about anything else. We just wanted to get here and see what kind of run we could make. That doesn't mean we're satisfied with where we are. But every team's got different circumstances and different expectations, and we've already exceeded ours, so we've got to just go play and have fun and enjoy it.
DP:Are the Lakers a better team this year than last year's title team?
SK: They're probably better defensively. They have not played as well offensively. Either way, last year's team was great, this year's team is great. They're going to be tough.
DP:What's been the low point in your three years in Phoenix?
SK: Probably when Mike D'Antoni left [for New York after the 2008 season]. We had a really good thing going. I wanted to take things a step further, and it just didn't work out.
DP:Can I include the Suns in the LeBron sweepstakes?
SK: [Laughs.] If he'll take mid-level, we'll give it to him. It's about 5½ million [dollars]. I think he'll take it. Don't you think?
DP:Where do you think he's going to go?
SK: I have no idea. I want him to stay in Cleveland. I was a Dodgers fan growing up, and I knew the infield—Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey—for about eight years. I think that's good for sports when you've got players you connect to over a long period of time.
DP:Better hair: Garvey's or mine?
SK: Oh, Garvey's. It's not even close.
DP:He had forearms as big as your thighs, though.
SK: That's true. But that's not saying much.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told me he would be "surprised" if USC is punished for improper benefits to running back Reggie Bush by a marketing company when Carroll was the Trojans' coach. "It's an interesting issue when there are so many variables beyond the player, through his family and extended families," he said. "It's a big network that the NCAA is asking the universities to control. Hopefully everything will work out well for the university."
Ken Burns, whose latest work, The Tenth Inning, will premiere on Sept. 28 on PBS, says he's not worried about steroids damaging baseball. "The durability of the American character is manifested in the durability of this game," he told me. "At the end of the day, the game always wins. Nothing kills it. A .300 hitter means the same thing to my daughters as it does to me, as it does to my dad, as it did to my great-great-grandfather, Abraham Burns, who fought in the Civil War."
Line of the week
Former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell had lofty praise for Rajon Rondo (above): "Rondo is one of the most unique point guards in the history of the NBA.... There is no one his size who has been like him."
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Lakers G.M. Mitch Kupchak discusses Phil Jackson's future.
2. SI's Peter King on the prospect of a New York Super Bowl.
THE FINE PRINT: During the Preakness, Pimlico offered fans $20 unlimited beer with a $40 general admission ticket. And for another $20, you got a designated jockey.
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (PATRICK)
JOE NICHOLSON/US PRESSWIRE (CARROLL)
BOB ROSATO (RONDO)
GENE LOWER/SLINGSHOT (KERR)