It is generally assumed that people who become head coaches do it so they can run their own shop their own way. That coaches are rarely given that freedom anymore is beside the point—people need to dream the dream they have conjured for themselves.
Thus, the relatively quiet announcement Friday that Golden State assistant coach Kenny Atkinson had changed his mind and decided not to make more money in Charlotte was a bit of a stunner. Just a bit though; I think we are all stuffed to the gills with Warrior stories for awhile, and they don’t have their traffic-disrupting drunken parade until Monday.
But Atkinson will be there on a float with Mike Brown, who did take another job (Sacramento, of all places), secure in the knowledge that he will be an aide to Steve Kerr until . . . well, presumably until something better than Charlotte comes along.
Still, the rebuke is the thing here, in that at least one person with a chance to be the boss has decided to stay with the old boss, leaving us to postulate on potential theories as to why Atkinson didn’t want to be a Hornet, or if you must, a Jordanaire. Put it this way: The move was surprising enough that The Athletic hasn’t scrubbed its “What are the Hornets getting in Kenny Atkinson?” story from nine days ago.
But nobody has put a finger, tentacle, claw or prehensile tail on why Atkinson did the thing coaches don’t do, leaving us to specuguess why he left money and power on the table. To wit:
- Maybe he didn’t leave money on the table after all. That seems like a small and unlikely reason to stay, but Joe Lacob seems to enjoy his reputation as an ostentatious cash-splasher, and there would be no more owner/gangster move than to pay more for an assistant than another owner would for a head coach, especially when that other owner is Michael Jordan. This seems unlikely since Atkinson agreed to go to Charlotte until he un-agreed, so the money probably was right enough at the moment, but the freedom of action under Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak suddenly felt more restrictive than the possibility of getting new rings.
- Maybe the Hornets suspect they are about to lose Miles Bridges, their second-best player, to the lures of free agency, and the idea of a non-playoff team being less playoff-y didn’t appeal to Atkinson after eight days of reflection. This also seems unlikely, as he would have asked about that in his interviews.
- Maybe he’s been given a promise that he will succeed Kerr in San Francisco, though that seems like an awfully long time to cool his ambitions. The general assumption is that Kerr will stay as long as Stephen Curry is making Kerr’s life too easy for words, which is to say that Kerr will stay until Curry leaves. Assuming Curry is staying through the $59 million year in 2026, Atkinson’s wait would be exhausting. This seems unlikely because there will be other job openings and Atkinson’s name will only glow brighter with the wait. Besides, coaching the Warriors without Curry seems too much like actual work.
- Maybe he likes the gentle price of real estate in the Bay Area, in that he can get a lovely five-bed four-bath three-acre home in Fresno and the three-hour-each-way commute is no big deal for him because he can design offensive sets in his head by the time he drives through Lathrop. Maybe if he’d kept the Charlotte gig he would have commuted from Charleston. That seems unlikely because only an idiot would do that.
- Maybe he’s just had the ambition beaten out of him by his time getting undercut in Brooklyn, where what he did worked until the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving regime change made all he built irrelevant to the greater cause of player empowerment. The Warriors are better about avoiding agenda miners than most teams because Curry’s agenda is no other agendas, and he remains the alpha-est of all the Warriors in the kennel. That seems unlikely because he was ready to go to Charlotte, which is ambition at the expense of common sense.
- Maybe he likes the new grudge-venting, slight-remembering, name-taking Warriors, or he doesn’t want to miss a single “Fuck Draymond Green” chant for the remainder of Green’s career. This also seems unlikely, but it’s an appealing lure when you consider that some of the people embracing the new battle chant were his teammates. I mean, if Warrior fans don’t chant that at the ring ceremony on Opening Night, they just don’t get the team’s new vibe. This seems at least slightly plausible because who wouldn’t want to hear fans use that chant as a badge of honor and appreciation?
- Maybe Kerr thought about 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. This makes a lot of tangential sense given that Kerr is a supreme red-ass behind that articulate veneer, and it would be deliciously funny to imagine him as a fine fellow with a rarely shown side of vengeful psychopath.
Of these theories, numbers 6 and 7 seem the most entertaining if not necessarily the most plausible. And unless Atkinson has a better story than either of those, they’re the ones we’re going with until he gets the offer he can’t refuse from Detroit in 2023 . . . 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 grand fellow and fine tactician, but it’s still Sacramento, with the same delight in firing coaches for the sheer lack of better ideas. Brown may come to envy Kenny Atkinson for staying, whatever the reason. At least that’s the way to bet.