With the Los Angeles Lakers’ hiring of JJ Redick likely soon to become official, only two NBA teams are left without a head coach: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons. While the Pistons are fairly early in their coaching search after firing Monty Williams on Wednesday, the Cavs have had a while to think about who will replace J.B. Bickerstaff. And it appears Michigan State basketball head coach Tom Izzo may have some input into the process.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is a Michigan State University graduate and a major booster of the men’s basketball program. And that connection appears to have bled into the Cavaliers’ search for a new head coach, according to NBA insider Marc Stein, who indicated Izzo may be backing former Brooklyn Nets head coach and current Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson.

“Potentially boosting Atkinson’s chances: Legendary Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is said to be an Atkinson fan,” Stein reported on his ‘The Stein Line’ Substack. “Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, of course, is a well-known Izzo fan who graduated from Michigan State and is said to have resumed significant involvement in team affairs compared to recent years.”

Kenny Atkinson reportedly competing with two others for Cavs job

Kenny Atkinson

Kenny Atkinson is believed to be one of three finalists for the Cavaliers job; Minnesota Timberwolves lead assistant coach Micha Nori and New Orleans Pelicans associate head coach James Borrego, the latter of whom served as the Charlotte Hornets head coach for four seasons, are the other names often associated with the Cavs vacancy.

Atkinson got his start in coaching overseas when he spent a pair of seasons as an assistant with Paris Basket Racing before becoming an assistant for Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks. After four seasons in New York, Atkinson served as an assistant on Mike Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks staff, where he would stay for four more years.

In 2016, Atkinson was named the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, who had officially entered a rebuild after a trade in 2013 bankrupted the team of their draft capital. Despite the relatively bleak outlook, Atkinson commandeered the young and inexperienced Nets to a playoff berth in his third season. Unfortunately, following the arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both of whom missed part or the entire season, Atkinson resigned after just 62 games of the 2019-20 season.

Since his Nets stint, Atkinson has been an assistant on the West Coast; he worked on former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue’s Los Angeles Clippers staff for one year before joining Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, where he has been for the last three seasons. He nearly left the Warriors in 2022 to become the Hornets head coach and had actually verbally accepted the job, but he ultimately backed out and returned to continue as an assistant with Golden State.

Atkinson will reportedly have to contend with Borrego and Nori, the latter of whom is Middletown, Ohio native, for the Cavaliers vacancy.

“Pelicans associate head coach James Borrego, who was also a finalist for the Lakers’ post, had been increasing billed this month as gaining traction to be hired by the Cavaliers,” Marc Stein reported. “Yet as I tweeted Friday night, I’ve heard from multiple league insiders that Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson is gaining steam in the race for Cleveland’s job that has confounded many in coaching circles.

“Minnesota’s Micah Nori has also been in contention for the Cavaliers’ post and is likewise said to have impressed in the interview process.

“It’s believed that the Cavaliers are closing in on their ultimate choice, while Detroit’s sudden search to replace Monty Williams seems likely to stretch into July.”

If the Cavs are to hire a head coach by the NBA Draft, they will have to do so before Wednesday, June 26. The draft is set to begin then in Atkinson’s old home of Brooklyn at 8 p.m.