Cavaliers: Kenny Atkinson already doing groundwork for the coaching job

2022 NBA Finals - Game Six
2022 NBA Finals - Game Six / Elsa/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers are ramping up their head coaching search with their offseason underway, as they are reportedly interviewing over ten candidates for the position. President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said the organization would take its time with the coaching search, and he is holding true to that.

Over the last two seasons, the Cavaliers stacked 99 wins and two playoff appearances under Bickerstaff, but Altman stated the organization felt it needed to shift their leadership and find a new voice. The Cavs' offense could never overcome repetitive mistakes and lulls in efficiency, something that Cleveland will hope to see change with their next coach.

As the process has gone on though, a few names have emerged as primary candidates for the Cavs' job. Kenny Atkinson, James Borrego and Johnnie Bryant have been the three most popular names. However, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, it looks like Atkinson is preparing himself to possibly take the job in Cleveland.

Atkinson has also interviewed for the Los Angeles Lakers coaching position, but they reportedly have their eyes set on UConn’s Dan Hurley.

It makes sense that Atkinson has already done a lot of research for the Cavs' job, considering his ties to Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, as both players were coached by Atkinson in Brooklyn. Allen and LeVert have also reportedly spoken highly of Atkinson to their fellow Cavs teammates, which bodes well for Atkinson’s chances at landing the job.

Atkinson's coaching history

Atkinson was the head coach of the Nets from 2016-2020, helping the franchise navigate its rebuild after the disaster of an era that included the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets improved in every season under Atkinson, including a surprise playoff berth in 2019. 

Atkinson is known for being a great talent developer, which bodes well for a Cavs team that has a lot of young talent that needs to take the next step in their games. Atkinson was a key reason why D’Angelo Russell had the best season of his career, as well as developing guys like LeVert and Allen into solid NBA contributors.

Even in his time as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, Atkinson played a key role in helping young players like Jordan Poole before he got traded, Jonathan Kuminga and others. 

Atkinson has built a reputatin for running a motion-based offense that is free flowing, emphasizes pace, and three-pointers. This is something the Cavs had success with at points in the regular season, but the offensive side of the ball is their biggest weakness as they lack consistency. Atkinson can help fix that.

Additonally, Atkinson has a more direct approach, challenging his players to be better and to be the best they can be for the team. That is something the Cavaliers lacked with J.B. Bickerstaff and maybe this kind of approach can help the team take the leap in the East.

There is no guarantee that Atkinson will be next head coach yet. reporter Chris Fedor reported that former Charlotte Hornets head coach and current New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach James Borrego is emerging as the frontrunner via his Subtext, creating a conflicting narrative to Windhorst's comments. With the NBA Finals ongoing, the Cavaliers are in no rush to replace Bickerstaff. If the Lakers come to terms with Hurley, Cleveland becomes the only team with a coaching vacancy, giving them more control over their future and negotiations.

Cleveland also interviewed a multitude of lead associate coaches, namely Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori and Miami Heat long-time assistant Chris Quinn.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers still have a lot of work to do to find their next head man, Atkinson would be a fine choice, especially if he has already been preparing himself for the job.

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