This is not said very often, but poor Michael Jordan. The NBA legend got Whitleyed by Kenny Atkinson. Jordan was about to start a new life with Atkinson leading his Charlotte Hornets. They fit together as well as Byron and Whitley in the fifth season of A Different World, but then Dwayne Wayne, a.k.a. The Golden State Warriors, showed up at the door.
With a postseason run that no one outside of their organization predicted in the fall, or at the conclusion of a regular season that ended with Stephen Curry on the sidelines, the Warriors reminded Atkinson of the great times they’ve had together. The Warriors mostly had their way with the Western Conference during the playoffs, and then battled for six games with Boston Celtics in the Finals, giving him something he never had before, an NBA Championship.
The Charlotte Hornets never did announce that Atkinson would indeed be their new coach. Unlike the Sacramento Kings, who made it official in May that Mike Brown would lead their young, mismatched roster. All of a sudden the lead-assistant chair was open, but Atkinson had already met with Jordan. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, he is the only head coach candidate that Jordan met with in person. Also, this is a much better job than the Kings. Atkinson would’ve been the coach specifically chosen to work with one of the NBA’s rising stars, LaMelo Ball, who made the NBA All-Star team in his second season. Almost as good of a scenario as being married to a recently-elected United States Senator.
However, Curry’s finals shooting display and that Larry O’Brien trophy is Dwayne charging up that aisle, and the way that Whitley ran back to him is the way Atkinson ran back to that lead assistant job with Warriors. Then there’s Jordan, slinking away in the back, jilted at the altar just like Byron.
In A Different World, Whitley and Dwayne go on to live happily ever after, but unless Atkinson is waiting on a 56-year-old Kerr to leave the only head coaching job he’s ever had after four championships in eight seasons, his career probably doesn’t stop in Golden State. That is unless the wounds from that one season coaching Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets never quite heal.
The Hornets, Jordan, and Atkinson appeared to be an ideal fit. Atkinson is a defensive minded coach, the Nets improved from second to last in defensive rating his first season all the way to ninth in his final one. It’s where this exciting, explosive, Hornets team needs the most work — especially the 6-foot-7 Ball.
The other two candidates that were in the running for the Hornets’ lead job were Terry Stotts and Mike D’Antoni. Two coaches who have experienced much success in the NBA, but aren’t known for their teams playing stingy defense. It’s not only coaching and better play that the Hornets need in order to improve on that side of the floor, but they also need to make some changes in personnel. That will be difficult with the oft-injured Gordon Hayward’s $30 million contract on the books for the next two seasons.
A jilted Jordan is probably not the most pleasant person to be around at the moment. Bubba Wallace having a strong finish at Sonoma today would do a bit to lift Jordan’ spirits, but knowing what we know about Jordan, he’s going to hold onto Atkinson reneging on him for the rest of his life. He’s not going to just drift away quietly like Byron. Jordan might try to dunk on Atkinson every time he sees him in public from now on.
Unlike in A Different World, it’s a shame that this new pair didn’t make it work. Byron and Whitley would’ve been great together, but that’s not a rewarding experience for the viewers who spent five seasons with the characters. The Hornets and Atkinson really did appear to be a perfect match, but in the end he just couldn’t quite cut off his old flame. Now Jordan is left to put back the shattered pieces not of a scripted relationship, but of his offseason plan and the draft is on Thursday.