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Cavs Hire Kenny Atkinson

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made their first big move of the offseason, hiring Kenny Atkinson to replace their recently fired coach, J.B. Bickerstaff. Atkinson was one of the first names when Bickerstaff got fired, along with James Borrego, who previously head-coached the Charlotte Hornets. Reportedly, they were the final two contenders as well, with Atkinson winning out. They both have the same amount of HC experience of four years, with Borrego being more recent. Borrego had the better record, but Atkinson had the bigger accomplishment, taking a pretty poor Brooklyn Nets team to the playoffs, which Borrego never did. 


Shared History


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Speaking of Atkinson’s Nets history, two of his key players on that playoff team were Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. Having a shared history is always nice, of course, and they both really began to blossom under Atkinson. It could also hint that both will be staying. Both players are viewed as possible trade candidates. Allen, because his range is too similar to Evan Mobley’s and LeVert’s range due to his consistency issues. With their former coach on board, though, it seems less likely they will be dealt. 


New Beginnings

Beyond what Atkinson can do for his former guys, what’s more important is what he can do for the new guys, particularly Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley. It seemed like Mitchell staying was likely at this point, and it’s almost assured that he had a large hand in picking Atkinson, so Mitchell must like him already. Garland is less certain, with his agent putting out that Garland would seek a trade if Mitchell re-signs.

Mobley is the most curious case. He hasn’t shown the rapid growth many expected after year one but has steadily improved. This year, Mobley looked much more willing to let it fly from three after returning from injury.   Atkinson presided over one of the major shooting success stories of this generation, turning Brook Lopez from a man who made three total threes in his first eight seasons into a man called Splash Mountain. If he can work that magic on Mobley (or Allen, for that matter), he’ll be worth every penny. 

Track Record

Atkinson is definitely a qualified candidate, but not an exceptionally exciting one. The NBA loves to retread coaches, and Atkinson’s record with the Nets wasn’t great. There has been some success in hiring new blood (Steve Kerr, Nick Nurse, Joe Mazzula, and Ime Udoka, to name a few). That being said, it’s not like Atkinson is a fossil that’s been around half the league, either. Many thought his Net’s tenure was unfair to him anyway, and since then, he’s been part of successful organizations. That includes winning a championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2022. The Warriors, in particular, have a free-flowing offense that many would love to see implemented in Cleveland, compared to the rather stagnant system Bickerstaff often had.

As a head coach, I know all of his Nets squads were bang average on offense. Not really what the Cavaliers are looking for, but those teams were also not close to as talented as the one he’s taking over. As far as hiring’s go, it straddles a nice line of not risky but also some solid potential. There are two main missions. Get one of the bigs to become a credible three-point threat, and figure out how Mitchell and Garland (if he stays) fit together. Let’s see how it goes.

Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page.  He has written for NBC, SB Nation and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick, a graduate from the Ohio State University, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but moved to Columbus, Ohio early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.

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