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Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak disappointed by Kenny Atkinson backing out, has no timeline for new coaching search

The Charlotte Hornets entered Thursday night’s 2022 NBA Draft without a head coach, though that wasn’t by design. They had agreed to a four-year deal with Kenny Atkinson earlier this month, only for Atkinson to change his mind about the job and remain with the champion Golden State Warriors as an assistant under Steve Kerr. 

While the Hornets ended up having a busy night that saw them trade the No. 13 pick to the New York Knicks in exchange for a future first-round pick and four future second-round picks, and select Duke big man Mark Williams with the No. 15 pick, much of general manager Mitch Kupchak’s post-draft press conference focused on the coaching situation. 

Kupchak called Atkinson’s decision “disappointing,” but noted he was glad Atkinson backed out right away: “I think he would have been a good pick, but if he’s not comfortable here I would rather find out now than a year from now,”

The Hornets finished above .500 last season for the first time since 2016, but were unable to make the playoffs and got bounced in the play-in tournament in embarrassing fashion for the second consecutive year. That, combined with an inability to hold the team accountable on the defensive side of the ball spelled the end for James Borrego, who was surprisingly let go after four seasons with the club. 

In Atkinson, the Hornets thought they had found a coach who could instill a culture with this young group and get them to buy in on the defensive end. Now, they’ll have to re-open their coaching search and there’s no telling how long it may take to make the new hire. 

“We’re moving on it,” Kupchak said. “I can’t give you a when. I don’t want to say a week or two weeks or two days. I don’t want to say that.”

“We have spent a lot of time going over candidates, maybe some new candidates and making sure we cover our bases. We have never felt the need to rush this process. We want to pick the right coach — and we thought we did.”

Mike D’Antoni and Terry Stotts were among the finalists for the job during the initial search, and may now be under consideration again. Both of them are offensive-minded coaches, however, and if the Hornets weren’t sold on either of them the first time around, they should probably stick to that original judgement. Based on Kupchak’s response, it certainly seems like the team is expanding the search. 

While Kupchak noted that the Hornets don’t want to rush this process, the team doesn’t have unlimited time either. It’s one thing to go into the draft without a coach, but it’s another to enter free agency and then summer league without one. With free agency starting on June 30, expect a decision from the Hornets before long.

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