Six weeks into their exhaustive search for coaches, the Charlotte Hornets appear to be focused on the person they want to move the franchise forward.
Kenny Atkinson’s name has been bubbling below the surface in league circles since the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month, and it seems more evident that, barring an unexpected turn, the Golden State Warriors assistant has become a serious competitor to succeed. James Borrego as Head Coach of the Hornets.
Atkinson is due to meet owner Michael Jordan at some point in the coming days, league sources have confirmed to The Observer, and it’s usually the last step in the process. Jordan did the same before signing Borrego in 2018.
There’s a three-day gap between Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals, which move to Boston after Sunday night’s game in San Francisco, creating a window for the two sides to meet. If all goes well and Jordan is in love with Atkinson, he could possibly be hired by the end of the week, according to a league source. But it’s not done yet.
If Atkinson does get the nod, there won’t be much he can do right away as he has to focus most of his attention on helping Golden State and former Davidson standout Stephen Curry win their fourth crown. final in eight years.
Still, with the NBA Draft fast approaching on June 23 and plenty of questions hanging over the roster heading into the offseason, Atkinson won’t have much time to assimilate to his new surroundings. The Hornets are already dealing with that as whoever gets hired will have to build a new coaching staff, which may or may not include Borrego’s former assistants, who have continued to work behind the scenes, sources say. They are waiting to see if one of them will be retained in a similar role.
As Atkinson gets closer to the possibility of taking over the coaching reins, here are three things he would bring to the Hornets:
Currently completing his first season as an assistant coach with Golden State, Atkinson is a noted grinder who has paid his dues.
Born on Long Island, New York in Huntington and a native of Northport, New York, he spent more than three seasons as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, compiling a 118-190 record while helping the franchise go from strength to strength. a short-wage team. with few assets for a destination that has attracted Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency.
He played a key role in gradually building their win tally from 20 in his first season to 28 in the second year, followed by a 42-40 campaign in 2018-19, guiding Brooklyn to their No. playoffs since 2015. That 14-win increase from 2017-18 to 2018-19 was the third-highest among any team, and those three straight years of improved win-loss record represented the first time that the Nets had been accomplishing this feat since 1990-94, when it came in a franchise record. four consecutive seasons.
Atkinson was let go by Brooklyn with the Nets sitting in seventh place at 28-34 in the Eastern Conference on March 7, 2020, fearing high expectations helped by Irving’s arrival as a free agent in 2019 His win total ranks third in the franchise. history and he is third all-time in games coached with 308.
Boasting an NBA coaching resume that dates back to 2007, he patiently waited his turn for another crack in a head gig, spending 2020-21 in Los Angeles on Ty Lue’s staff with the Clippers. before heading up the coast to the Bay Area to be part of Steve Kerr’s coaching staff this season.
Developing young talent has been integral to the Hornets’ growth over the past few seasons. Since their roster is loaded with many young people in their twenties, led by LaMelo Ball, it’s important to maintain that while reaching the next level of success.
One of Atkinson’s strengths is getting the best out of an individual.
He began his NBA coaching career as director of player development for the Houston Rockets in 2007-08, after he held the same position overseas for France’s Paris Basket Racing Club.
Long stints as an assistant coach in New York from 2008-2012 and Atlanta (2012-16) preceded his jump to Brooklyn, so he’s worked with his fair share of players over the years. He helped Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen improve their games.
Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez has Atkinson to thank for sparking his long-range performance. Lopez never averaged more than 0.2 attempts per game from 3-point territory in his eight seasons before Atkinson’s arrival with the Nets. But the 7-footer hoisted 5.2 per game with Atkinson’s blessing and kept 34.6 percent in that first year. Lopez is now a 34.1% career 3-point shooter.
Another plus: Atkinson played professionally overseas for 14 years and was a top ball handler. He seems to incorporate this knowledge into dialogue with his players, allowing for give and take in certain situations.
He even coached overseas, giving him a unique perspective to judge international talent.
During his tenure with the Nets, Atkinson was on the defensive, and that mentality should greatly benefit the Hornets. Glaring shortcomings on this side of the ball were detrimental last season and they learned the hard way that simply trying to outscore teams every night won’t work when competition heats up come playoff time.
Although he didn’t have too big defenders in Brooklyn, Atkinson slowly brought the Nets to respectability on that side of the ball. Their defensive efficiency went from 23rd in his freshman year to 14th and ninth in his last season-plus.
Just imagine the possibilities if he can do something similar with the Hornets.
He has a track record to point to and that could help him get some defensive attention from his new team, who are in desperate need of an inside rim protector and overall attitude adjustment when it comes to keep the opposition consistent with the appropriate amount of intensity and mental focus.
This story was originally published June 4, 2022 3:44 p.m.