CHARLOTTE — Ever since the mid-April firing of ex-coach James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets fans have wondered who would be chosen by team owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak to lead the youthful-yet-talented Hornets.
That question has been answered. According to an initial report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on June 10, Golden State Warriors assistant coach and former Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson is set to be the Hornets’ next head coach.
Atkinson, 55, has reportedly agreed to a four-year contract that will make him the successor to Borrego. After one year as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and one year as an assistant for the Warriors, Atkinson will become a head coach for the first time since the 2019-20 season when he parted ways with the Nets.
Golden State, led by head coach Steve Kerr, was one win away from claiming the NBA title after winning Monday’s Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead over the Boston Celtics.
Atkinson amassed a head coaching record of 118-190 during his four seasons in Brooklyn. During his third year, the Northport, New York, native led the Nets to the No. 6 seed while coaching D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star. In his fourth year, however, he was fired midway through the season after the revamped Nets, led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, struggled to adjust to Atkinson’s intense developmental system.
It was reported last week that Atkinson and former Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni were the two frontrunners for the Hornets’ job and that both held continued meetings with Jordan. While Atkinson ultimately landed in Charlotte, he was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coaching job before the Lakers decided to go with Darvin Ham.
Although the Hornets haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2015-16 season nor won a playoff series in more than two decades, Jordan and Kupchak will be looking for their new coach to guide a young roster led by LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges to sustained success.
It remains to be seen if the firing of Borrego was an indictment of his coaching approach or simply an attempted rebranding for the franchise. He was just 138-163 in four seasons with play-in tournament losses in each of the past two seasons, but he had curiously been given a multiyear contract extension last August.
It’s worth noting that despite Atkinson’s reputation as a formidable team builder and evaluator of talent, he does have a lower winning percentage (38.3%) through four seasons in the league than Borrego (44.7%) has through five seasons.
Some have speculated that Kupchak had a preference for hiring D’Antoni instead — looking to maximize Ball’s offensive potential — while Jordan preferred to bring in Atkinson to install a new culture of accountability that will focus on ending the team’s ongoing defensive woes.