It’s widely believed that people who become head coaches do so to run their own shop in their own way. The fact that coaches are rarely granted this freedom is irrelevant – people have to dream the dream they have conjured up for themselves.
So Friday’s relatively quiet announcement that Golden State assistant coach Kenny Atkinson had changed his mind and decided to stop making money at Charlotte was a bit startling. Just a bit; I think we’ve all been stuffed with Warrior stories for a while, and they don’t have their traffic-crippling drunken parade until Monday.
But Atkinson will be there on a float with Mike Brown, who has taken another job (in Sacramento, of all places), safe in the knowledge that he will be an aide to Steve Kerr until . . . Well, probably until something better than Charlotte comes along.
Still, the reprimand is the thing here, as at least one person with a shot at being the boss decided to stick with the old boss, leaving us to posit possible theories as to why Atkinson didn’t want to be a Hornet, or if it must be a Jordanaire. Let’s put it this way: The move was surprising enough that The Athletic didn’t scrub its “What do the Hornets get in Kenny Atkinson?” Story from nine days ago.
But no one has put a finger, tentacle, claw or prehensile tail on why Atkinson did what coaches don’t, and we’re left to speculate as to why he left money and power on the table. Namely:
- Maybe he didn’t leave any money on the table after all. That seems like a small and unlikely reason to remain, but Joe Lacob seems to be embracing his reputation as a swanky cash-splasher, and there couldn’t be a bigger owner/gangster move than paying more for an assistant than another owner pays for a head Trainers, especially when that other owner is Michael Jordan. That seems unlikely since Atkinson had agreed to go to Charlotte until he disagreed, so the money was probably right enough for now, but the freedom of action under Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak suddenly felt more restrictive than the ability to buy new rings to get .
- Perhaps the Hornets suspect they’ll lose Miles Bridges, their second-best player, to the lure of free hands, and the idea of a non-playoff team being less playoff-esque didn’t sit well with Atkinson after eight days of deliberation. This also seems unlikely since he would have asked about it in his interviews.
- He may have been promised that he would succeed Kerr in San Francisco, but that seems like an awfully long time to cool his ambitions. The general assumption is that Kerr will stay as long as Stephen Curry makes life too easy for Kerr for words, meaning Kerr will stay until Curry leaves. Assuming Curry survives $59 million in 2026, Atkinson’s wait would be exhausting. That seems unlikely as there will be more job openings and Atkinson’s name will only shine brighter with the wait. Also, training warriors without curry seems too much like actual work.
- Maybe he likes the cheap price of real estate in the Bay Area since in Fresno he can get a nice five bedroom, four bath house on 8 acres and the three hour drive each way is not a big deal to him because he can design offensive sets in his head as he drives through Lathrop. Maybe he would have commuted from Charleston if he had kept the gig in Charlotte. That seems unlikely because only an idiot would do that.
- Maybe he just slapped ambition out of him when he was undercut in Brooklyn, where what he did worked until the regime change of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving rendered everything he built irrelevant to the larger cause of player empowerment. The Warriors are better at dodging agenda miners than most teams because Curry’s agendas aren’t other agendas, and he remains the alpha-est of all the warriors in the kennel. That seems unlikely as he was willing to go to Charlotte, which is ambition at the expense of common sense.
- Maybe he likes to easily remember the new warriors who hold grudges and take names, or maybe he doesn’t want to miss a single “Fuck Draymond Green” chant for the rest of Green’s career. Again, that seems unlikely, but it’s appealing bait considering some of the people who took on the new battle chant were his teammates. I mean, if Warrior fans don’t sing that at the ring ceremony on opening night, they just don’t understand the team’s new vibe. This seems at least a little plausible, because who wouldn’t want fans to use this chant as a token of honor and appreciation?
- Perhaps Kerr considered losing Atkinson and Brown at the same time and decided he had a better chance of beating Atkinson into submission to keep him from leaving than Brown did. This makes very tangential sense considering that behind that articulated veneer, Kerr is a supreme red ass, and it would be deliciously funny to imagine him as a fine fellow with a rarely shown side of a vengeful psychopath.
Of these theories, numbers 6 and 7 seem the most entertaining, although not necessarily the most plausible. And unless Atkinson has a better story than those two, they’re the ones we’ll keep going with until he gets the offer from Detroit in 2023 he can’t refuse. . . or Houston in 2024. . . or New York in 2025. . . or Sacramento in 2023 or 2025 or 2027 or 2029 or . . . Well, you know a pattern when you see one. Mike Brown is a great guy and a good tactician, but it’s still Sacramento, with the same delight in firing coaches for the sheer lack of better ideas. Brown might envy Kenny Atkinson his whereabouts, whatever the reason. At least that’s a bet.