There are three categories of Head Coach hires in today’s NBA: the guy who has never coached (Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd), the coach who has been bounced around with multiple teams (Scott Skiles, etc.), or assistants to coaches that have had great success (Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown). Every team wants a piece of success. Look how many teams have tried luring away Spurs assistant coaches. It sure has paid off for us. One of the hottest names on the market for coaches was Alvin Gentry of the Golden State Warriors, who was just hired as the New Orleans Pelicans’ new Head Coach. This is what happens when you win 67 regular season games and fly through the playoffs. Obviously former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will be highly sought after. However, if more vacancies open up, I expect Hawks’ assistant coach Kenny Atkinson to be a hot name on the market. He is the assistant to reigning NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer, who runs the Spurs-like system that intrigues so many teams. Quin Snyder was hired off our coaching staff last season and has done an incredible job with a young Jazz team. The success that has stemmed from the Hawks’ coaching staff in such a short time will attract many teams.
Atkinson strives on player development. It’s clear to see the strides that Hawks players have made since the arrival of the new coaching staff, and a lot of people will pat Mike Budenholzer on the back for this. While obviously he deserves a TON of credit, Kenny Atkinson is a big part of this as well. Atkinson was a player himself. He played collegiate ball at the University of Richmond, and then played professionally for various countries around the globe. Atkinson has an international flavor to his coaching resume as well. He was the director of player development/assistant coach for Paris Basket Racing Club from 2004-06, and held the same title for the Republic of Georgia national team in summer 2006. He made his jump to the NBA when he served as the Houston Rockets Director of Player Development from 2007-2008 After his tenure with the Rockets, Atkinson became an Assistant Coach for the Knicks from 2008-2012, before joining the Hawks staff, where he has served under both Larry Drew and Mike Budenholzer. He was Danny Fery’s first hire.
If you get to Phillips Arena early enough before games, you’ll see Atkinson and Darvin Ham in their sweats helping drill and warm up their players. He is a player’s coach. According to former Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman, “There is nobody better than Kenny at developing players.” Remember Jeremy Lin? Atkinson was instrumental in “Linsanity” back in his time with the Knicks. Lin is quoted in an article by Frank Isola saying, “I’ll text after a game at midnight, 1 o’clock when I go home and I’ll say, ‘Hey can I look at those turnovers. Can I look at the upcoming team? How they run pick and rolls?’ And he’ll have the film ready when I walk into the facility the next morning.” Atkinson’s devotion to the sport as well as his players is second to none. Working under Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni, Atkinson has also worked under highly efficient offenses. He knows his X’s and O’s. He will space the floor and promote a ton of quick ball movement.
Atkinson has finally gotten some attention in regards to a head coaching gig. The Philadelphia 76ers interviewed Atkinson back in 2013 before opting to hire former Spurs assistant Brett Brown. He also coached the World Team at this year’s Rising Stars Challenge. Atkinson is a rising star himself. The good news for the Hawks is that Atkinson has a busy summer ahead: possibly too busy for a team to pursue him. He has signed on to serve as the new head coach for the Dominican Republic National Team. Yes, he will try to recruit Al Horford. We have all seen what Quin Snyder has done in Utah, and this is just the beginning for him. People have nothing but good things to say about Atkinson, and I think he is more than qualified to be an NBA head coach: it’s just a matter of time until a team is smart enough to give him a shot.