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Cavaliers hire Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson as coach

The former NBA coach of the Brooklyn Nets from 2016-20, Kenny Atkinson will fill Cleveland's coaching vacancy.

Kenny Atkinson has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach on the Warriors.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have found their next coach and have hired Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, the Cavs announced today.

Atkinson was an assistant with the Warriors for the past three seasons after he spent the 2020-21 season as an assistant coach with the LA Clippers. Before that, he was coach of the Brooklyn Nets from 2016-20, when he and the team parted ways on March 7, 2020 after a 28-34 campaign with the Nets.

“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,” Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman said in a statement.

“His innovative approach will instill a style of play and brand of basketball that will give us a chance for sustainable success and ultimately compete for championships.”

About Atkinson: A longtime assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York, the 56-year-old Atkinson got his first head coaching gig with Brooklyn in 2016. He went 118-190 with the Nets over four seasons before stepping down.

Atkinson is a Long Island native who had been an assistant coach with Atlanta and New York when Nets general manager Sean Marks hired him as Nets coach in April 2016.

That came with the Nets were mired near the bottom of the NBA as they tried to dig their way out of damage following a 2013 trade with Boston, in which they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce but gave up years of assets and salary-cap flexibility.

Brooklyn went 20-62 in Atkinson’s first season, 28-54 the next and nothing much was expected last season.

But the Nets surged to a 42-40 finish, earning their first playoff spot since 2015, and Atkinson was credited with helping D’Angelo Russell reach his first All-Star Game, and Spencer Dinwiddie grow from a G League player to a third-place finisher in voting for the Sixth Man award.

The signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019 brought attention along with talk of 50-win seasons and contending for titles. But Irving began having trouble with his right shoulder in early November and eventually had to miss nearly two months, never allowing the Nets to build much chemistry on a roster that had made a number of other changes.

What’s next for Cavs: Cleveland’s coaching job became open after the Cavs dismissed coach J.B. Bickerstaff shortly after the team’s loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Cleveland was eliminated by the Boston Celtics while playing the final two games without All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell or center Jarrett Allen.

It was an agonizing decision for the Cavs as Bickerstaff helped oversee a rebuild that began in 2018 after LeBron James left for the second time as a free agent.

After Bickerstaff’s firing, the Cavs were expected to interview candidates with NBA head coaching experience and perhaps some high-caliber assistants. The Cavs’ last offseason search resulted in the hiring of Michigan’s John Beilein, who resigned at the All-Star break in 2019 after just 54 games in charge, leading to Bickerstaff’s appointment.

Cleveland is hoping to sign Mitchell to a long-term contract extension to keep the All-Star swingman in the fold and help the team improve upon its 48-win season that was marred by injuries. Guard Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who along with Mitchell and Allen, give the Cavs one of the league’s best young core of players.

The Cavs have not reached the Eastern Conference Finals since the days of James in 2018. After acquiring Mitchell via trade in 2022, the Cavs went 51-31 last season and had home-court advantage in the first round before getting knocked out in five games by the New York Knicks.

Cleveland has the No. 20 pick in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.