Hornets coaching search: Mike D’Antoni, Kenny Atkinson both get final meeting with Michael Jordan, per report

It appears the Charlotte Hornets are nearing the end of their head-coaching search, and the final two candidates are Kenny Atkinson and Mike D’Antoni. Both coaches are expected to meet with team owner Michael Jordan this week, according to ESPN, and the team will make a decision after those meetings

Shortly after the season ended, the Hornets fired James Borrego, who had been in charge since 2018. While the Hornets had improved during Borrego’s reign, finishing over .500 for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign, the team decided to go in a different direction due in part to blowout losses in the play-in tournament in consecutive seasons and an inability to hold young players accountable on defense, per Shams Charania. In the end, Jordan made the final push to fire Borrego. 

There were also hints that LaMelo Ball, the team’s franchise player, wasn’t thrilled with life under Borrego. 

“When they really put them keys in my hand, I feel like it’s gonna be a whole new situation,” Ball said in an interview with SLAM Magazine in March. “But until then, I’m gonna keep doing what I need to do, just try to get these wins. I ain’t gonna lie, every game I feel like I can do more than what I’m doing. It’s just [about] reading the whole game and reading the whole situation. And everybody being on the same page. The consistency part. Once all that clears, I feel like we’ll be straight.”

Whichever coach gets hired, they will be inheriting a young, promising roster that has the makings of being a playoff contender. Figuring out how to best utilize players like Ball will be key for the new coach, but if defensive accountability is a sticking point for the Hornets, Atkinson may have the edge over D’Antoni in that regard. D’Antoni is known for being an offensive-minded genius, and while he did coach the Rockets to the sixth-best defense in the league back in 2018, which was the same year the team made it to the Western Conference finals, his teams have typically been average on that end of the floor. 

Atkinson may not be a defensive genius, but in each season he coached the Nets they consistently improved on defense. Brooklyn went from being the 23rd-ranked defense in his first season there, to finishing ninth in his last season. Atkinson’s time with Brooklyn was also heralded for his ability to rebrand the Nets as a desirable destination after the ill-fated Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce era. He coached a cast of role players to an unlikely playoff berth in 2019, and he built an identity that the team bought into. Atkinson could help do the same in Charlotte with a roster that’s better than that 2019 Nets team.

But D’Antoni is no slouch as a coach, either. Just as he helped elevate James Harden’s game in Houston by curating the perfect offensive system around him, he could do the same with Ball and the Hornets. He could unlock Ball’s game on offense, and help clarify roles of other players on the team. 

Whoever the Hornets decide to go with, it doesn’t feel like there’s a wrong decision. The foundation of a competitive team is already there; it just needs the right coach to lead it. Both D’Antoni and Atkinson are more than qualified for the role. 

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