The Golden State Warriors famously open up the checkbook when it’s time to hire asisstant coaches, bringing in high-level talent and often former NBA head coaches, like Mike Brown and Alvin Gentry. So it’s not a surprise that their most high-profile hire from last season, Kenny Atkinson, is getting interviewed for open head coaching gigs, including the vacant job in Charlotte.
ESPN Sources: The Charlotte Hornets are beginning to interview candidates for their head coaching job, including Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham, Dallas assistant Sean Sweeney and Mike D'Antoni.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 3, 2022
The 54-year-old Atkinson joined the Warriors this off-season, after a year working as Ty Lue’s assistant with the Clippers. He coached the Brooklyn Nets from 2016-20, shepherding the club through a tear-down and rebuild, where the team was hampered by trading away four first-round picks, including three in the lottery. Atkinson did well, leading the team to the playoffs in 2019, but his days were numbered when the team effectively ceded decision-making to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant wanted Steve Nash to be the coach, while Kyrie didn’t think they needed a head coach at all.
Before the Nets job, Atkinson was an assistant coach for four years in Atlanta, under Larry Drew and then Mike Budenholzer. He also worked under Mike D’Antoni in New York for four seasons, and now he and his old boss are interviewing for the same jobs.
One consequence of paying top dollar for famous assistant coaches is that they often don’t stay assistant coaches very long. It’s like recruiting a one-and-done prospect to your college basketball team - the better the team does, the less likely it is that he’ll stick around for a while. One reason that the Warriors were able to retain Mike Brown - also a candidate for multiple head coaching jobs - is that the Cleveland Cavaliers were paying off his old coaching contract through 2020 (Brown was fired in 2014). If NBA coaches get new jobs, their new salary offsets the old one, which was a big reason the Lakers weren’t able to hire Lue in 2019 - he was also still being paid by the Cavaliers, so he had no reason to take the cheap three-year deal they offered. (And how long did Frank Vogel end up coaching there? Three years.)
Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak fired Coach James Borrego after Charlotte lost badly (132-103) to the Atlanta Hawks in the 9-10 play-in game last month. This was after the 2021 play-in game where they lost by 27 points to the Indiana Pacers. While the firing was unexpected, getting pasted in two nationally-televised post-season games will hurt anyone’s job security, even after four generally positive seasons with the Hornets for Borrego.
Now the choice is in the hands of Kupchak and Charlotte owner Michael Jordan, the shoe company and tequila mogul who also used to play professional basketball. To prepare for the questions Atkinson is sure to face in his job interview, we’ve provided some sample answers:
“The most overrated executive in NBA history was Jerry Krause.”
“I think Charles Oakley would make a great assistant coach.”
“‘Winning Time’ was very unfair to Jerry West.”
“LeBron James is a good player, but he’s no Horace Grant.”
“My biggest weakness is that I’m terrible at playing golf for money.”
“The new Space Jam movie was terrible, and the Quad City DJs should be ashamed they took part in it.”
“I don’t think those jeans are too baggy at all, Mr. Jordan.”
“If I don’t get this job, I will take that personally.”