Hornets GM: Atkinson reneging on agreement 'disappointing'

FILE - Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to the media during a news conference for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C., April 12, 2019. The Charlotte Hornets have two picks in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday June 23, 2022 — and no head coach in place to help facilitate those decisions. Hornets owner Michael Jordan is still searching for the organization’s next coach after Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson on Saturday abruptly backed out of a four-year agreement to coach the team. General manager Mitch Kupchak is expected to make final decisions with input from Jordan. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — While general manager Mitch Kupchak said Kenny Atkinson’s decision last week to renege on his four-year agreement to coach the Charlotte Hornets was “disappointing,” in some ways he’s thankful it happened the way it did.

“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,” Kupchak said Thursday night during the NBA draft.

Kupchak gave no timetable as to when the Hornets will have a new coach in place, emphasizing the team is in no hurry.

Kupchak said team owner Michael Jordan has been in Charlotte since Tuesday and they’ve spoken extensively about the coaching situation.

The GM declined to discuss potential candidates, but said the team may open the interview process to new candidates they hadn’t spoken to before offering the job to Atkinson.

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

Kupchak added that in the NBA he feels “the roster is really what wins games,” not necessarily the head coach.

“A good coach is going to help with the roster, but the most important thing is to get the roster together,” Kupchak said. “We will get a good coach and we will be in good shape.”

The Hornets entered the NBA draft without a head coach in the war room and Kupchak calling the shots. The team traded its 13th overall pick to the New York Knicks for a future first round pick and four second round picks and then took Duke center Mark Williams at No. 15. Charlotte added Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens in the second round.

Kupchak had hoped to have a coach in place before the NBA draft.

“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.”

Kupchak didn’t say much about the coaching search, though joked about the challenging situation the Hornets are in.

The general manager said Atkinson’s decision reminded him of when Steve Kerr turned down the New York Knicks coaching job, only to go to Golden State where he’s won four NBA titles.

“It looks like (Kerr) make a good decision to take the job at Golden State,” Kupchak said with a laugh. “So maybe Kenny spoke to Steve, and Steve said, ‘hey maybe things will work out this way for you.’ I don’t know.”

Kupchak also pointed out NFL coach Bill Belichick abruptly resigning before his introductory news conference with the New York Jets in 2000. Belichick went on to coach the New England Patriots and win six Super bowls.

“That was a good decision, too. So maybe Kenny is on to something,” Kupchak quipped.

Atkinson has not responded to interview requests from The Associated Press seeking comment about his decision to back out of the agreement. However, Kerr said Atkinson turned down the job because he didn’t want to uproot his family again.

Charlotte fired James Borrego on April 22 after he went 138-163 in four seasons at the helm.

Charlotte has not made the playoffs since the 2015-16 season and has not advanced out of the first round in more than 20 years. The Hornets finished 43-39 last season and were bounced in the play-in tournament by the Atlanta Hawks.