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Report: Cavs tab Atkinson as head coach

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Just days ahead of the NBA draft, the Cavaliers picked their coach.

Kenny Atkinson, an assistant with Golden State who helped Brooklyn rebuild before a puzzling departure, will be Cleveland's new coach, a person familiar with decision told The Associated Press on Monday.

The Cavs have been looking for a new leader for their young team since firing J.B. Bickerstaff last month despite two straight playoff appearances and continued progress.

The sides have agreed on a deal and are working through details of Atkinson's contract, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team is not discussing its search publicly.

ESPN.com was first to report Atkinson is heading to Cleveland.

Atkinson spent the past three seasons as Steven Kerr's top assistant with the Warriors. In 2022, Atkinson accepted Charlotte’s coaching job but backed out a week after agreeing to a four-year contract.

Atkinson's hiring ends an expansive search by the Cavs' front office. Atkinson was one of at least six known candidates to interview with the team since Bickerstaff's firing on May 23 — a week after Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs in five games by the eventual champion Boston Celtics.

The 57-year-old Atkinson checked all the boxes in what the Cavs were looking for: head coaching experience, offensive-minded and a strong reputation for player development.

He emerged as the choice by Cleveland vice president of basketball operations Koby Altman and general manager Mike Gansey last week. Atkinson then met with team chairman Dan Gilbert, who signed off on the Cavs' first coaching hire in five years.

Atkinson went 118-190 in his three-plus seasons with the Nets, overseeing their rise from the lower tier of the Eastern Conference to a playoff berth in 2019. It appeared he might be with Brooklyn for an extended period following the additions of superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but had a surprising split from the franchise in 2020.

Atkinson’s parting was a major surprise given the team’s growth under his guidance. After leaving, he spent one season on the Los Angeles Clippers’ staff before going to Golden State.

With the Warriors, Atkinson got to see one of the league’s best offensive players in Stephen Curry and immersed himself in a dynamic offense system he’s certain to borrow from with Cleveland.

One of the knocks on Bickerstaff was his inability to improve Cleveland's offense. Still, he went 170-159 in the regular season while guiding the Cavs back to relevance through a rebuild that began in 2018 when LeBron James left as a free agent.

Bickerstaff, who replaced John Beilein midway through the 2019-20 season, kept Cleveland among the top teams in the East this season despite a slew of injuries and Cleveland advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs without James on its roster for the first time since 1994.

Atkinson, who got his NBA coaching start as an assistant on Mike D'Antoni's staff with the New York Knicks in 2008, has some connections on the Cavs after working with center Jarrett Allen and forward Caris LeVert while in Brooklyn.

Hiring a new coach was the first priority in a pivotal summer for the Cavs. Next is getting All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to accept a long-term contract extension, this week's draft (Cleveland has the No. 20 overall pick) and perhaps retooling the roster with trades and in free agency.

After the Cavs were knocked out of the playoffs, Altman said the team needed a coach who could bring new ideas and a fresh approach to get the most from the team's core of players — Mitchell, Allen, guard Darius Garland and forward Evan Mobley.

Atkinson will get the next shot.