Kenny Atkinson’s ability to connect with and develop young talent makes him a prime candidate to be the next coach of the New York Knicks.
According to Shams Charania and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, the former Brooklyn Nets coach is expected to interview for the team’s head coaching job. Former Chicago and Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau is also expected to interview along with current interim coach Mike Miller.
Each of these men would be a strong fit in the Big Apple. Thibodeau is a defensive mastermind and former Knicks assistant who did great work with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. Miller opened up New York’s offense after David Fizdale was fired and, record aside, is generally popular with the players.
But Kenny Atkinson just has that it-factor new Knicks president and former player agent Leon Rose needs. Thibodeau’s reputation speaks for itself, but he’s too defense-oriented in a league where three-pointers and scoring are now kings. Miller, though popular, is a holdover from the Steve Mills regime.
Atkinson, on the other hand, gives the Knicks the fresh face the team so desperately needs. His up-tempo offense would finally modernize New York basketball and put the Knicks back on the right track.
Kenny Atkinson might be the best choice to lead the Knicks next season.
Kenny Atkinson has basketball experience in spades. After four years of playing college ball at Richmond, he spent over a decade playing overseas in Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Atkinson then shifted his focus to coaching. His first NBA experience began in 2008 with, you guessed it, the New York Knicks.
Now, why does this matter? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, Atkinson is a New Yorker. He grew up on Long Island, just a short trip away from Madison Square Garden. At 52 years old, he obviously grew up watching the team and knows how great it is for basketball when the Knicks succeed.
More importantly, Atkinson was an assistant from 2008-2012, when Mike D’Antoni was head coach. Granted, the Knicks were not necessarily a good team under D’Antoni, but he took them forward with Atkinson as a trusty assistant. In D’Antoni’s first year at the helm, the Knicks ranked fourth in scoring despite winning just 32 games.
Atkinson is one of the coaches who worked closely with Jeremy Lin while “Linsanity” was sweeping across New York City.
In fact, save for D’Antoni’s last season in which he resigned midway through, the Knicks were a top 10 scoring team in the NBA. More importantly, in his third season, the Knicks were a playoff team. Were it not for D’Antoni quarreling with Carmelo Anthony, the success might have continued. The point is Atkinson can bring this brand of basketball back to New York and long overdue.
As for his own coaching abilities, Atkinson was doing a fine job with the Nets, who hired him in 2016. His win total improved every year for three years and the Nets were starting to click offensively. Simply put, the man can coach.
However, Kenny Atkinson doesn’t come without risks. After winning 42 games last year and making the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, the Nets stumbled to a 28-34 record this season. This was despite adding superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency after letting upstart D’Angelo Russell walk in free agency.
Still, amidst struggles, Atkinson and the team parted ways in March. One source told Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily, it was a simple matter of him losing the team.
To be fair, a lot of this was not Atkinson’s fault. Durant never expected to play this year after tearing his Achilles in last year’s NBA Finals. Irving played well but his first season in Brooklyn was decimated by shoulder trouble. He played in just 20 games this season, has been out since February, and had surgery in March.
But this brings the conversation back to Atkinson’s first stint with the Knicks, under D’Antoni. In 2012, D’Antoni resigned as head coach. The Knicks were 18-24, he was butting heads with Anthony, and he decided it was best if he left the team. It’s eerily similar to how Atkinson left the team in March, even though the Nets were technically in the playoffs.
Keep in mind, none of this is to say Kenny Atkinson will quit on the Knicks if times get tough. On top of Durant and Irving being injured, the oft-injured Caris LeVert missed nearly two months recovering from thumb surgery.
Rather, the Knicks are in a position to finally get out of the NBA cellar. Their next head coach will be their fourteenth since the year 2000. New York Knicks basketball needs stability just how Hank Hill needs propane and propane accessories. Even if he hires an assistant, Leon Rose’s pick for Knicks coach needs to make an impact.
Is that really someone like Kenny Atkinson, who left the Nets when the waves got rocky?
All concerns aside, the fact of the matter is Kenny Atkinson is worth the risk. His brand of basketball is perfectly tailored to today’s NBA. So long as Rose and general manager Scott Perry draft him a solid scoring point guard, he should have the opportunity to revamp the Knicks on the court.
On top of that, the Knicks, their front office, and fans have walked on eggshells for too long. Could hiring Rose turn out to be the wrong move? Absolutely, but better for him to swing for the fences in all avenues than to do his job passively. Tom Thibodeau is a strong hire, but a safe one. Mike Miller might improve the team, but perhaps not to the point of regular playoff contention.
With Atkinson, the Knicks could shift their scoring into overdrive and finally be able to keep up with the rest of the league. All Atkinson, Rose, and Perry have to do is reach common ground on how to build a team. The front office drafts the talent, Atkinson coaches them to understand and succeed in his system. Even if he doesn’t work out, he can hopefully have the team in a better position so that his successor can reach that next level.
Kenny Atkinson is a fine coach who knows the game, especially today. If the Knicks hire him, the team is already in a better position to do well.