New York Knicks: Is Kenny Atkinson’s candidacy gaining traction?

Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Will Kenny Atkinson overtake Tom Thibodeau as the New York Knicks’ first choice to become head coach?

The New York Knicks’ search for a new head coach has been an ongoing conversation since Leon Rose was named team president at the beginning of March. Rose has made plenty of additions to his new front office, and acquiring a new bench chief appears to be next on his to-do list.

Since Leon Rose was appointed president, the leading candidate to be New York’s next head coach has been Tom Thibodeau. There are plenty of factors that have made Thibodeau the favorite to land the job: he has expressed interest in coaching the Knicks, he has a long resume of coaching and winning in the NBA, and most importantly, he is close with Leon Rose.

Just two weeks ago, the rumors were swirling that the Knicks would make their decision quickly. The writing seemed to be on the wall: Tom Thibodeau would take over as the next coach.

Kenny Atkinson has internal support to become the next coach of the New York Knicks.

However, just a few days ago, a report by Ian Begley claimed that Kenny Atkinson was gaining some serious support among members of the Knicks front office.

This recent news makes you wonder if the new faces that Leon Rose has brought into the front office are pushing for Atkinson over Thibodeau.

Thibodeau is a polarizing head coach with over 30 years of NBA coaching experience. He is a tremendous candidate, and would likely be the best option available in most NBA offseasons.

Yet somehow, someway, the Brooklyn Nets let Kenny Atkinson walk away. Atkinson took over a Nets team in complete disarray and transformed it into a blossoming roster that was able to attract the two biggest prizes of 2019 free agency, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The reasoning for Atkinson’s firing isn’t crystal clear, but it seems to have stemmed from disagreements in playing time and roles among the team’s veterans.

Atkinson seemed to prioritize player development for his younger players over making sure the veterans (DeAndre Jordan) on the team were satisfied with their role. This is exactly why Atkinson to the Knicks makes so much sense.

Defining success for the New York Knicks in developing their young players.

Everyone knows that the Knicks 2019-20 season was a dumpster-fire. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario where they had the same record, but the only difference was that all of the young talents on the Knicks roster had “promising” seasons in that they were allotted significant playing time and clear cut roles.

In this hypothetical season, RJ Barrett was the clear cut #1 option and an obvious choice to make the All-Rookie team. Kevin Knox’s efficiency went up, Frank Ntilkina firmly established himself as a defensive specialist, and Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson became valuable role players.  I would call that a successful season. That’s just how low the bar is for the Knicks.

Back to reality. Had the Knicks just spent this past season focusing on developing their youth and not giving Wayne Ellington more minutes than Allonzo Trier, they might have a better understanding of their roster. Now, there are far more questions than answers for the young prospects on the Knicks.

In comes Kenny Atkinson, the guy to steer the Knicks out of the weeds. He is the coach who identifies a player’s strengths and their pathway to NBA success. He turns prospects into players.

Kenny Atkinson turned Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris into multi-million dollar assets. Last year, he led the Nets, a team with a comparable roster to the current Knicks, to the 6th seed and a playoff appearance. Oh, and he also did this while coaching in New York City.

Kenny Atkinson might be the perfect fit for the New York Knicks.

If you were to create a profile for a perfect candidate to take over the Knicks, it would be Kenny Atkinson. It’s a layup hire, and maybe the new voices that Leon Rose has brought in from other organizations are echoing that sentiment.

Thibodeau’s coaching resume, alone, makes him a front-runner for the head coaching job, but I think his long relationship with Leon Rose is what thrust him forward into being the clear-cut favorite. That’s why I think this recent report about internal support for Atkinson is nothing to scoff at.

Leon Rose hasn’t brought in guys from a close-knit circle that he trusts. He’s brought in executives and scouts from different organizations, with different strengths, of all different backgrounds. This could be a telling sign that Rose’s relationship with Thibodeau isn’t as prominent a factor as we once thought.

I don’t want to get too carried away, I still believe, with everything we know, Thibodeau is the leading candidate. What I am getting at is that maybe the new faces in the Knicks organization see this as clearly as many fans and writers do: Atkinson is the obvious choice. Maybe with due time, Atkinson can pick up more and more unanimous support among the Knicks’ brass.

I’ve gathered the near-consensus feeling among Knicks fans, analysts and writers alike seem to be a jaded, “Temper your expectations because it’s the Knicks” approach of, “Atkinson is my number one choice, but I’d be fine with Thibodeau.”

Hopefully, the new front office is telling Rose, “Atkinson is the number one choice…period.” We’ll see what comes out in the next couple of weeks.