This candidate should be Lakers' next coach after helping LeBron's former rival

The Lakers should have a clear favorite to be their next head coach.
Los Angeles Lakers, Rob Pelinka
Los Angeles Lakers, Rob Pelinka / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are searching for a new head coach after firing Darvin Ham on Friday. There will be immediate pressure on whoever gets the job. Ham won 54.9 percent of his regular season games and helped them reach the conference finals in 2023. The Lakers want to compete for championships immediately, which should shrink their wish list.

LA hoped to convince Tyronn Lue or Jason Kidd to join the Lakers, but those windows appear closed. Lue committed to the Clippers immediately after their first-round playoff exit, and Kidd signed a contract extension with the Mavericks ahead of their second-round series against the Thunder. The Lakers should focus on available candidates, and one stands out as the must-hire.

Most will put Mike Budenholzer at the top of their list because of his championship experience, but that would be overlooking the top option. Kenny Atkinson was a head coach in Brooklyn and has proven he can help get the most out of his roster.

Lakers should hire Kenny Atkinson to be their head coach

Atkinson played college basketball at Richmond and had a long professional career mostly overseas. He began his coaching career in Paris in 2004 before jumping to the NBA in 2008. Atkinson spent four years as an assistant for the Knicks and three in Atlanta before becoming the Nets head coach.

He quickly got Brooklyn out of a rebuild and made a surprise playoff appearance in 2019. The Nets play convinced Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to join the franchise, but the two stars would get Atkinson ousted in 2020. His surprise playoff run and the development of their young talent are why he continues to get mentioned for head coaching gigs.

Atkinson is more equipped than ever after his recent run as an assistant. He was on the Clippers staff during their 2021 run to the conference finals, which is the furthest the franchise has ever advanced. After one season, Atkinson left to join Steve Kerr in Golden State. The Warriors won a championship in his first year on their bench.

The one thing lacking on Atkinson’s head coaching resume was coaching stars, but he got the experience over the last four years. He helped Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. Atkinson has a close relationship with Curry and has zero issues connecting with the marquee talents in this league.

Atkinson is just 118-190 in his four years as a head coach, but the Nets arguably exceeded expectations in three of those seasons. Talent wins in the NBA, and the head coach has to work with the roster he is given. Atkinson did that in Brooklyn and is eager for another chance to lead a team.

The Los Angeles Lakers should hire Kenny Atkinson as their head coach. He is the best mix of experience, basketball IQ, and personality. The front office must improve their roster to make the Lakers a title contender, but Atkinson is the right coach to maximize the talent he is given. They may go in a different direction, but it will be a mistake.