You’d be forgiven if you lost track of the number of times this season Ty Lue gave praise to his player development staff, led by Kenny Atkinson. Dan Craig was the associate head coach, and Chauncey Billups was the most famous person on the staff, but Atkinson’s name came up more often than any of them.
Lue was dropping the term “player development” on loop during his introductory press conference, even before Atkinson was hired. And once Atkinson came aboard to head the player development crew, Lue noted near the end of the season that he had never seen an operation like it. The commitment to internal growth, speared by Atkinson’s player development department, was a key factor in the Clippers’ success this season, and it was a reason to be excited about the team’s future.
Now, the Clippers will have to find a new lead for their development staff, as Atkinson is reportedly headed to Golden State to be a lead assistant for Steve Kerr. The wording is a little nebulous, given that the Warriors have an associate head coach in Mike Brown, but presumably this move would be a promotion for Atkinson. It would have to be, considering that Steve Ballmer would give Atkinson a raise if need be.
Atkinson’s name had come up in the head coaching search for the Orlando Magic, and he had previously been a head coach with the Brooklyn Nets, so it’s a little surprising to see him leave for another assistant position. It’s also a little disappointing to see Atkinson leave for a division rival. After the Clippers spent the 2020 offseason poaching coaches from other teams, they are on the receiving end this summer; first Chauncey Billups, and now this.
The Clippers could promote internally to replace Atkinson. Shaun Fein, Dahntay Jones, Brendan O’Connor, and Beau Levesque were all part of the player development team. Theoretically, one of them could step into that role, with Fein being a likely candidate given his particular involvement in developing Terance Mann. The Clippers also still have Natalie Nakase on their Agua Caliente staff, and Lue has lauded her preparation. They could also look for an external candidate, armed with Ballmer’s checkbook. Perhaps Rajon Rondo wants to retire, and he could step into a coaching position.
Other teams coming after the L.A. coaching staff indicates that this team was doing something right. Now, the Clippers have to figure out a way to replicate the formula.
More news for Thursday:
- Former Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro is among the candidates to join Billups in Portland.
- A professional basketball player named Devin Booker is having a weird time watching the Suns in the postseason.
- Robert Flom identifies some point guard targets for the Clippers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft.
- Kevin Pelton analyzes the impact of injuries on the playoffs, and how the teams most affected can be expected to respond next season.
- Michael Pina explains why this year’s NBA Finals might be the new normal.
- Owen Phillips celebrates the midrange jumper’s moment in this year’s postseason.