By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Steve Kerr, who last season became the first rookie head coach in 33 years to win an NBA title, has quickly transformed a Golden State Warriors team that was once a laughingstock into one that could dominate for years to come.
Players on the Warriors' roster have bought into Kerr's system and as a result set a single-season record by earning their 73rd victory on the final day of the NBA's 82-game regular season on Wednesday.
Kerr, a 50-year-old former NBA player who was born in Beirut and spent much of his childhood in Lebanon, might never have enjoyed such early success as a coach had he not reconsidered an interview request from the Warriors.
A five-time NBA champion as a player, Kerr initially declined a meeting with Golden State since he was already in discussions with the long-suffering New York Knicks.
But for Kerr, whose children attend school in California, there was a certain allure to the Oakland-based Warriors, so he contacted them to see if they still had interest.
Kerr had no coaching experience before joining Golden State two years ago but has remarkably managed to change the culture and charisma of a franchise that are suddenly the envy of the basketball world.
Gone are the days when horrible front office management, disastrous player personnel decisions and a revolving door of head coaches led the team into the abyss of constant struggle.
The man behind that turnaround is Kerr, the most accurate three-point shooter in league history and the player who drained the championship-winning shot off a feed from Michael Jordan in the decisive game of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Kerr, who ultimately proved to be an intelligent coach with a knack for making brilliant adjustments, took over a 51-win Warriors team and turned them into a 67-win, title-capturing juggernaut last season.
Along the way, he has also developed his coaching core into one of the best in the league. That depth was on full display as the Warriors opened this season with a record 24-game unbeaten run as Kerr sat out recovering from offseason back surgery.
While Kerr surprised many with his quick success as a coach, signs of a great basketball mind were always present, starting from his days as a sharpshooting reserve on the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls team that held the previous record for wins in a single season.
A shining example of Kerr's coaching savvy came during last year's NBA Finals after the Warriors appeared to lose their identity while falling behind 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven championship series.
Kerr turned his lineup upside down by giving small forward Andre Iguodala his first start of the year in place of center Andrew Bogut. He even kept his plans under wraps when pressed by the media, explicitly saying he would start Bogut.
The gamble was the master stroke that helped Golden State regain their groove. They won the series in six games, Iguodala was named the Most Valuable Player and Kerr became the first rookie coach to win an NBA title since Pat Riley in 1982.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)