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New Coach Kenny Atkinson talks plans for Cavaliers, Donovan Mitchell

Kenny Atkinson gesticulates with his hands as he speaks in front of a Cleveland Cavaliers backdrop.
Sue Ogrocki
Kenny Atkinson speaks as he is introduced as the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers at an NBA basketball news conference, Monday, July 1, 2024, in Independence, Ohio.

New Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Kenny Atkinson has already spoken to star guard Donovan Mitchell and believes the two are off to a good start.

A native of Long Island, Atkinson said he got to relate to the all-star on a more personal level.

“I had a great sit down [with Mitchell]. We have a little bit of the East Coast, similar backgrounds," he said, during an introductory press conference Monday. "We didn't grow up far from each other, really. We talked about more personal stuff [like] family.”

Mitchell is now eligible to sign a contract extension with the Cavs. At Atkinson’s, team President Koby Altman said he also recently spoke with Mitchell while attending a basketball camp in Los Angeles.

“He's really invested in what we're doing and hopefully soon we'll have more of a decisive answer on that, but he's been great,” Altman said. “He's been super involved and super collaborative and very much pro-Cleveland.

Atkinson also believes that if Mitchell does stay for the long run, he can find a way to maximize the star guard’s partnership with Darius Garland.

“I’ve already spoken to Darius multiple times and I’m just a huge fan,” Atkinson said. “[We] have a lot of pieces, but the talent is there ... I love [the idea of] both of them together.”

Atkinson began his NBA coaching career in 2008 as an assistant with the New York Knicks. He earned his first head coaching job in 2016 with the Brooklyn Nets.

Atkinson spent the previous four NBA seasons as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, where he had the chance to learn from highly regarded coaches Tyronn Lue and Steve Kerr.

“I soaked it in,” Atkinson said. “I think using [my] experiences with those two situations made me a better coach.”

The Cavaliers finished this past season with a 48-34 regular season record and won their first playoff series for the first time since 2018 in a seven-game battle with the Orlando Magic.

Despite the recent success, Atkinson believes that there is still room for growth.

“This is a fantastic roster. And the culture [the Cavaliers] have built is in place,” Atkinson said. “I’m coming here to give it a little more of a push.”

Atkinson also discussed how he plans to utilize forward Evan Mobley’s size and speed.

“He’s generally going to have the ball in his hands more,” Atkinson explained. “I think it’s a strength of his [in] how he runs [down] the court. You’ll see him more in transition with the ball.”

Atkinson will have the chance to reconnect with guard Caris LeVert and center Jarrett Allen, who played in Brooklyn during his tenure.

“It’s like the first day of school when you come in and you know somebody that went to your elementary school,” Atkinson said. “[But] it’s more than Jarrett and Caris. I feel like I know a lot of these guys. Just getting on the phone with [them], I’m like ‘this is going to work.’”

Atkinson is currently serving as an assistant coach for the French National Basketball Team for this summer’s Olympics. He replaces former coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who recently agreed to a deal with Cleveland’s division rival, the Detroit Pistons.

The Cavaliers officially announced Atkinson’s hiring last Friday. He becomes the Cavs’ 24th head coach in franchise history.

Darayus Sethna is an intern with Ideastream Public Media's news team.