The Phoenix Suns were beaten up, mentally and physically, after losing the first two games of the 2010 Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Then, before a Game 3 film session, Suns general manager Steve Kerr addressed the team.

"It was the perfect, motivating, inspiring pep talk that we needed," said Grant Hill, the former Suns player, recalling that the team won the next two games to square the series. "We were fired up. He got us to get fired up -- without being a fiery person."

Four years later, Kerr emerged as the hottest NBA coaching commodity on the market and landed a five-year contract including incentives that could be worth an estimated $25 million with the Warriors. Without having coached a game at any level, Kerr will enter next season as one of the NBA's highest-paid coaches. Only Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy will make more. Two of them have won championships, and Van Gundy was just hired by the Detroit Pistons.

Kerr, 48, was so coveted, according to his agent, Mike Tannenbaum, that two other teams, besides the Warriors and the New York Knicks, were interested in him.

Kerr's ascension revealed the respect he commands after winning five NBA championships in 15 years as a player and finding success in three seasons as a general manager and eight as a broadcaster.

Communication skills were a strong suit for Kerr long before he impressed Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers during his interview last week in Oklahoma City.

"His teammates had so much confidence in him," recalled former Arizona coach Lute Olson, the Hall of Famer whom Kerr played for in college. "Anything that Steve would tell them would be taken in the right way.

"He'd be very direct, but he wasn't going to be criticizing opponents and criticizing his teammates in a public situation. Anything he had to say would be said in private."

The ability to strike the perfect chord served Kerr well as Suns general manager, another job he took as a novice. Hill, who played 18 NBA seasons, described Kerr as having a calm demeanor along with a competitive fire when dealing with egos in the front office and the locker room.

"He's a great communicator, and so much of coaching is communication and interacting with guys and being able to sell them on what your goals and visions are," said Hill, who went on to work with Kerr at TNT.

"He has a great feel for guys. He always seems to say the right things to the group collectively and each and every one of the individuals. ... He just has a way of having those tough conversations when needed, but do it in a way where the message gets across and it's not necessarily personal."

Kerr believed he needed more than people skills and a past -- he played under Popovich, Phil Jackson and Lenny Wilkens -- to become a coach. Responding to a Phoenix fan who once asked why Kerr wasn't coaching the team, Kerr wrote: "I really believe coaching in the NBA is a job that requires training, and I haven't coached at any level."

He still hasn't, but after stepping down as Suns general manager and returning to work for TNT, he pursued an education in coaching. His job as a broadcaster not only gave him a national platform but also brought him face to face with the best in the field. When he wasn't asking questions, he was listening intently to the answers.

"You get a chance to spend time to talk with them and evaluate what they're doing over the course of a game," said Mike Fratello, a broadcaster and former coach who has worked alongside Kerr at TNT.

"He has great work ethic and will be prepared."

In his quest for knowledge, Kerr ventured out of his sport and into Saratoga Springs, New York, where he spent a day visiting with Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells. Tannenbaum, the former New York Jets general manager who arranged the meeting, said the two spoke about leadership and attention to detail while Kerr took copious notes.

"There's no real formula to become a great coach," Hill said. " Coaching is a lot of things. It's strategy. It's problem-solving. It's adapting. It's communicating.

"He has all those qualities and traits."

Follow Diamond Leung on Twitter at twitter.com/diamond83.

INSIDE

Ex-Warriors coach Mark Jackson rejoins ESPN. PAGE 6

ON A1

Kerr learned from masters and family tragedy.

GETTY IMAGES

Steve Kerr has yet to coach a game, but his agent says four NBA teams pursued him.