Five names to watch as Hawks start search for next head coach
Nate McMillan wasn’t the problem in Atlanta. Maybe he wasn’t the solution with a dated offense and a less-than-ideal relationship with Trae Young — but McMillan wasn’t the root of the problem in Atlanta. For that matter, neither was GM Travis Schlenk, but he and now McMillan are out the door. This very hands-on ownership group pushed hard for the Dejounte Murray trade — over the concerns of some in the front office — then fired everyone when it didn’t work out (at least so far).
Which leads to this question: Will coaches with options jump at the Hawks’ head coaching job? They will want assurances about autonomy — and those assurances will have to include four or five fully guaranteed years.
Here’s a list of five names to watch for the Hawks head coaching position, both based on reports that have surfaced and conversations with league sources. The top three names on this list are the names that appear to be the favorites at the start of the process, but this search could go a lot of different directions.
1) Quin Snyder
The former Jazz coach who led Utah to the best record in the NBA is the top unemployed coach on the market and — if the Hawks want someone before the end of the season — should be their first call. (Whether Snyder would be willing to start mid-season is another question, he may want an entire training camp.)
Snyder came out of the Popovich/Budenholzer coaching tree and built a regular-season juggernaut in Utah with a system that prized player and ball movement. However, that didn’t translate to the postseason success the franchise craved. Could he get the most out of a Trae Young/Clint Capela pick-and-roll offense? Could he get this Hawks team to defend again? Could he get them back to the conference finals?
Snyder will want a lot of control, but he has produced results in the past.
2) Kenny Atkinson
He helped build a culture and player development system in Brooklyn that was good enough to attract Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, then he struggled to fit those stars into it (they didn’t like him, he was out, and after that everything went smoothly for the Nets…). Atkinson has spent the past few seasons on the bench next to Steve Kerr and has talked about how that has broadened his perspective on coaching and dealing with stars (Stephen Curry may be a little easier to work with than Irving). He likes where he is at.
Atkinson took the Hornets job last season, then when he and ownership got into the details about what was to come in Charlotte, Atkinson backed out and stayed with the Warriors. He’s been a head coach in a challenging setting before and he’s not stepping into a job where there is not genuine alignment of strategy from the owner through coach. Is that Atlanta? He could help build the culture and player development system they seek, but he’s not stepping into a toxic situation.
3) Charles Lee
Another coach out of the Budenholzer coaching tree, he jumped up to the lead assistant position this season after Darvin Ham went to Los Angeles. He’s considered the offensive coordinator in Milwaukee and is a strong Xs and Os coach. Lee also has a hand in player development in Milwaukee. He’s young (38), energetic, and could be the kind of boost the team needs in the locker room (and he could relate well with Young and other players on the roster). He will get a shot somewhere, and as a first-time head coach he will be less expensive than the veterans (that matters to some ownership groups).
4) Sam Cassell
His name has not popped up on any published list yet, but he’s someone a source with another team mentioned to me if the Hawks are looking for an assistant who is both ready for the big chair and could develop a strong bond with Trae Young. Cassell is currently an assistant under Doc Rivers on the 76ers staff, but before has been with the Clippers, Wizards and Bucks — after 13 years as an assistant he deserves a shot. He’s a former NBA point guard who players love, partly because he is honest and no-nonsense. If the Hawks decide to talk to him, he could be a fit.
5) Mitch Johnson
He has coached in the Spurs organization, at the G-League level at first then eventually on Gregg Popovich’s bench, since 2016. As a player he spent four years at Stanford before bounding between Europe and the G-League. The Spurs have a deep coaching tree and Popovich assistants have won titles from Budenholzer to Becky Hammon with the WNBA Aces, so never bet against them getting the job, but Johnson may be a long shot at this point in his career.
Other names mentioned include former NBA player and current head coach of the G-League South Bay Lakers Miles Simon, and Kings’ assistant Jordi Fernandez, and former Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel.