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Knicks Coach Gaining Steam as JB Bickerstaff Replacement

New York Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant, a potential head coach candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Instead of letting Donovan Mitchell fantasize about playing for the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers might just bring a slice of the Big Apple to the table.

Per The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant could soon become linked to the Cavs’ head coach vacancy. The primary impetus for Bryant emerging as a candidate is his experience coaching Mitchell (under Quin Snyder) during his stint with the Utah Jazz. “…No one has meant more to Mitchell’s career than Bryant — a friend, mentor and one-time development coach,” reports’s Chris Fedor.

Bryant, 38, would become the second-youngest head coach in the NBA behind the Jazz’s Will Hardy (36).

Bryant was also in the running for the Brooklyn Nets’ head coach role before they hired former Sacramento Kings associate head coach Jordi Fernandez. In 2022, he interviewed for both Jazz’s head coach positions.

Johnnie Bryant Gaining Steam as JB Bickerstaff Replacement

Bryant is the archetypal player’s coach, typically getting to know his players on and off the coach.

A sharp basketball mind with experience playing at the collegiate level after starring for the Utah Utes, he could be more respected in the locker room than J.B. Bickerstaff was. Though Bickerstaff empowered his players, they became disenchanted with his strategies. His drills seemed pointless, his adjustments slow-coming, his rotations questionable.

As a first-year head coach, Bryant won’t exactly be immune to these problems. It’ll be an adjustment period for him, and he’ll make some mistakes along the way. However, he’s spent his entire coaching career learning under Snyder and Tom Thibodeau. There are hardly two better active head coaches that he could learn from so far as having a playoff formula. That being said, Bryant should have less of an issue transitioning to a head coach role than other potential candidates.

Butterfly Effect

Notably, Bryant also has a close relationship with Milwaukee Bucks star Damian Lillard.

Due to Darius Garland’s rumored ultimatum, a trade request could be imminent. If so, Lillard could be a trade target for the Cavs as he’s had trouble fitting in with Milwaukee. A guard with plenty of experience sharing touches with an offensive-minded backcourt mate, Lillard should be more comfortable beside Mitchell than Garland.

For the Bucks, Garland’s efficiency, passing instincts, and scoring upside make him a better option than Lillard. It’s a rare win-win scenario.

Kenny Atkinson the Favorite?

If Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson is the favorite, it’s because the Cavs are fans of his combination of experience, analytics-based approach, and developmental ability.

Though the former head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Atkinson’s less experienced than Bickerstaff was. Nonetheless, his ability to balance statistical analysis and film study should help the Cavs’ offense get out the mud. To that point, Cleveland’s offense ranked 20th in points per game (112.6) in 2023-24. They were prolific from beyond the arc, ranking seventh in average 3-point attempts (13.5). However, their offense was a bit too perimeter-based, barely getting points from anywhere else.

To make matters worse, only Mitchell was especially equipped to call his own number. With that said, part of the blame for Cleveland’s unsatisfactory season belongs to Cavs president Koby Altman. As the lead decision-maker, he’s primarily responsible for a roster that struggled to create shots for themselves. However, this also underscores Bickerstaff’s flaws as a developmental coach.

Consequently, if Atkinson can unlock players like Garland, Caris LeVert and Evan Mobley, he might pass with flying colors no matter what Altman does.


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