Kenny Atkinson signs 5-year contract to coach Cavaliers, who made change after playoff appearance

CLEVELAND (AP) — Kenny Atkinson’s first stint as an NBA head coach ended with a sudden, strange separation in Brooklyn.

He’s hoping for a longer-lasting relationship in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers finalized a five-year contract on Friday with Atkinson, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant with Golden State and now takes over a Cleveland team coming off its second straight playoff appearance.

In choosing the respected Atkinson, the Cavs ended a monthlong search that began after the firing of J.B. Bickerstaff, who led the team to 99 wins the past two seasons. Bickerstaff was let go after Cleveland lost in five games to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“Kenny brings a wealth of experience, a proven track record of player development, and a relentless work ethic that aligns with the vision we have for this franchise,” said Koby Altman, the team’s president of basketball operations.

“His familiarity coaching alongside some of the NBA’s best elevates this partnership and we are excited that Kenny will guide our team and help us achieve our goals both on and off the court,” Altman added

The Cavs plan to introduce Atkinson — the franchise’s 24th coach — at a news conference on Monday.

“This is an incredible opportunity to lead an already talented young roster with an equally bright future,” Atkinson said in a statement. “I’ve seen firsthand and had to prepare for this group as an opposing coach, and the task was not easy. I’m so excited to now be on this side of the ledger to help continue moving this team forward.”

There was a delay in Atkinson signing his contract because he was in France helping its national team prepare for the upcoming Paris Olympics. He’ll be back in Europe next week for exhibition games with the French team.

Atkinson arrived in Cleveland on Wednesday and was in the team’s draft room when the Cavs selected Cal forward Jaylon Tyson with the No. 20 overall pick.

Atkinson’s hiring is another significant move in a pivotal summer for a Cleveland team that believes it has the necessary roster to compete for a championship. The next step — and perhaps the most important — is getting All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to sign a long-term contract, which he is expected to do.

The 57-year-old Atkinson is a safe, sound pick by the team’s front office and chairman Dan Gilbert, who hasn’t always handled coaching searches with aplomb. Gilbert’s outside-the-box hires of first-time NBA coaches David Blatt and John Beilein backfired badly.

Atkinson is far less risky.

He has the resume, highlighted by offensive success and a reputation for developing players. Atkinson began as an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York and has also been on staffs with Tyronn Lue and most recently Steve Kerr.

Atkinson won a title with the Warriors in 2022.

“Kenny is a great friend,” said Kerr, also the U.S. team’s coach who encouraged Atkinson to join the French staff. “He’s a great coach. That’s the reason Cleveland just hired him. And I was very lucky to have him the last few years.”

The Cavs are counting on Atkinson to bring out the best in their young players, particularly 23-year-old forward Evan Mobley, and take the team further than Bickerstaff could.

His experience with the Nets undoubtedly shaped Atkinson. Although his record wasn’t sparkling (118-190), he got Brooklyn’s players to buy in and the team made incremental improvements in each of his four seasons, making the playoffs in Year 3.

However, 62 games into the 2020 season, Atkinson was pushed out amid an ownership change and the ballyhooed arrivals of stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. His dismissal remains somewhat mysterious, one of those behind-the-scenes power struggles that percolate throughout the league.

The Cavs were also drawn to Atkinson’s offensive ingenuity. Under him, the Nets were at the forefront of playing faster and shooting more 3-pointers, a trend that took off and was embraced by the champion Celtics this season.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.



Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up