The Charlotte Hornets narrowed down their search for a new head coach to Kenny Atkinson or Mike D’Antoni, but team owner Michael Jordan ultimately tapped Atkinson to fill the vacancy.
James Borrego spent four-plus seasons as the head coach with the Hornets and amassed a 148-183 record since taking over midway through the 2014-15 season. The Hornets were 43-39 and qualified for the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, but failed to secure the #8 seed. This past season was the only time the Hornets had a winning record under Borrego, but the Hornets decided it was time for a change when they fired Borrego in April.
The Hornets are a team on the cusp of becoming a perennial playoff contender with former Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges. The young squad has ten players that are under 26 or younger, plus they have the #13 pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft.
Atkinson previously coached the Brooklyn Nets, where he went 118-190. The Nets had some bad teams during Atkinson’s tenure, but he still managed to get them to one postseason berth before stepping down in 2020.
Welcome to Buzz City, Kenny
Atkinson is currently an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors under Steve Kerr. Two of Kerr’s assistants were rewarded with head coaching jobs next season, but for now they’re both trying to help the Warriors win the 2022 NBA championship with the series tied at 2-2 against the Boston Celtics.
It’s a common practice for some teams to hire an assistant coach from one of the top teams int he league. The Sacramento Kings hired Mike Brown in early May, and the Hornets plucked Atkinson away from the Warriors.
“One of the reasons I hired Kenny was his feel for analytics,” said Kerr. “To have Kenny as the liaison between the coaching staff and the analytics department has been massive. Kenny is really well-versed on that stuff. He’s a believer. This year has been the first time we achieved the right balance.”
Atkinson was also a finalist to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Lakers ultimately hired Darvin Ham from the Milwaukee Bucks. It was only a matter of time before Atkinson got a second chance as a head coach, and the Hornets looks like a good fit.
The Hornets hired Atkinson to end a six-year playoff drought in Buzz City. They had an exciting team last season that scored 115.3 ppg for fourth-best in the league, but were plagued by a horrendous defense that was ranked in the bottom five allowing 114.9 ppg. Atkinson helped the Nets drastically improve their defense during his time in Brooklyn, and they went from ranked #27 to one of the best nine defenses in 2019.
The Hornets are +10000 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship, but listed 20th on DraftKings’ future board out of 30 teams.