As the NBA offseason gets under way, just two teams around the league are left without a head coach. The Detroit Pistons, who went 14-68 and endured the longest losing streak in league history early in the 2023-24 season, fired their head coach Monty Williams earlier this week. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the decision to move on from head coach JB Bickerstaff shortly after the Cavs had been ousted in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs by the eventual NBA champions, the Boston Celtics.

Given the talent difference between the two teams — and the seemingly increasing likelihood that Donovan Mitchell will be remaining a Cleveland Cavalier for the foreseeable future — the Cavs job is the more desirable of the two positions. And it turns out, that as the Cavaliers appear to be narrowing their focus onto former Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, their choice could end up having a “direct impact” on who the Pistons hire, according to NBA insider Marc Stein.

“Latest from NBA coaching carousel: Heard multiple times today that Kenny Atkinson is gaining steam for Cleveland’s job. James Borrego had initially been more widely billed as the favorite in coaching circles; Minnesota’s Micah Nori also in contention,” Stein tweeted on Friday night. He followed that initial tweet with this:

“Cleveland’s ultimate selection is expected to have a direct impact on Detroit’s just-opened coaching search, with the Pistons already known to hold interest in both Borrego and Nori as well as Dallas’ Sean Sweeney and J.B. Bickerstaff, whose ouster led to the Cavaliers’ opening.”

If Kenny Atkinson ends up the choice of Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman, that opens the door for the Pistons to have their choice of James Borrego, Micah Nori, or recently departed Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff, who accumulated a 170-159 record in The Land.

Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson during the second quarter in game two of the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center.
© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Atkinson's fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers 

Kenny Atkinson has spent the last three years as an assistant on the Golden State Warriors bench, winning an NBA Title with the team back in 2022. But prior to that, Atkinson had a 118-190 record as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets before being ousted in March 2020. Although Nets general manager Sean Marks claimed that the players had nothing to do with the decision, it was reported by SNY's Ian Begley and Corey Hersch that, “some Nets players felt that Atkinson had lost a portion of the locker room recently.” It's been rumored that the Nets players behind Atkinson's dismissal were Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer of The Athletic noted that Atkinson's, “equal opportunity offense did not mesh with the team’s most critical players.”

The 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets were Atkinson's crowning achievement as a head coach in the NBA. This hodgepodge roster that included D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and current members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, went 42-40 and earned a surprising Eastern Conference Playoff berth. What was interesting about that group was how many guys Atkinson routinely used. During the regular season, 13 players averaged at least 17 minutes per game. In the postseason, Atkinson's rotation included 11 guys who were playing at least 13 minutes a night.

How Atkinson would utilize and divvy up touches for Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland remains to be seen, though there's been speculation about the Cavs moving Garland, which would put the ball in the hands of Mitchell more often.