As the Lakers cast a wide net in their search, could they turn to a coach known as a player development specialist? If so, what does that say about their plans to build the roster?
Momentum is picking up in the Lakers’ search for a new head coach and now comes news they have received permission to interview former Nets coach and current Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Atkinson is known as a player development specialist, something he did well during his three-and-a-half seasons in Brooklyn as they brought along Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and others. The Nets made the playoffs one of those years with an undrmanned roster, and he helped build a selfless culture. However, he didn’t mesh well with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when they arrived in Brooklyn, and he was removed, making way for Steve Nash. This season, Atkinson is an assistant coach on Steve Kerr’s bench in Golden State (and is still working as the Warriors are still playing).
After spending the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Clippers and Warriors, Atkinson may have grown in his understanding of how to forge relationships with elite NBA talent.
The Lakers are a star-heavy, veteran, win-now team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and while for the long-term they need to improve their player development hiring Atkinson would suggest a team both looking to .win in the short term and build for the future at the same time (although the Lakers are light on draft picks in the coming years).
Atkinson also has interviewed for the Charlotte Hornet’s coaching position. Like the Lakers, the Hornets are in the earlier stages of that process.
Atkinson becomes the fifth person known to be interviewed by the Lakers, joining former head coaches Mark Jackson and Terry Stotts and top assistant coaches Adrian Griffin of the Raptors and Darvin Ham of the Bucks. LeBron is rumored to support Jackson, who helped build the foundation and defense of the Warriors’ championship years and now is a broadcaster for ABC/ESPN.
The sense around the league is the Lakers are taking their time with their search to see if other coaches still currently employed — most likely Doc Rivers in Philadelphia, and possibly Quin Snyder in Utah — also become available.
The Lakers fired Frank Vogel — who won a title with LeBron and Davis in the bubble — after a disappointing season, and in part because he couldn’t make Russsell Westbrook blend in with with LeBron and Davis (although it’s fair to ask if any coach could have done that, the mistake was making that trade in the first place).