Atkinson is best known for his work as a developmental coach. He made his name under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, and has done some of the best developmental work in basketball over the past two seasons, specifically. He spent the 2020-21 campaign under Ty Lue with the Clippers, and there, he helped Terance Mann grow into one of the better young wings in the league. He moved on to Golden State this season, and sure enough, youngsters like Gary Payton II, Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga have thrived under his watch.
Atkinson was a very successful coach for the Brooklyn Nets for three and a half seasons. He took over a team with few draught picks and fewer seasoned veterans and helped transform it into the type of organisation that could attract established stars such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. In other ways, Atkinson’s development proved to be his undoing. Suddenly merely making the playoffs with a young team was not enough, and he had to manage relationships with some of the NBA’s best and most demanding players. He never managed to forge such a connection with Irving and Durant, but after spending the past several years as an assistant for teams with similar talent, he may be better equipped to do so this time around with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The last time the Lakers went looking for a head coach, they only offered Lue and Frank Vogel three-year deals. The idea was to hire a coach ready to win in the short term without making a commitment for the long haul. The Lakers still have James and Davis, and they therefore still have a chance to win right now. But the future is creeping up on this team quickly, and in interviewing candidates like Atkinson, Ham and Griffin, the Lakers seem to be seeking a candidate who fits both timelines.