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Cavs Choosing Between 3 Head Coach Finalists

Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach candidate

As they continue to whittle down their group head coach candidates, the Cleveland Cavaliers are now choosing between three finalists, per NBA insider Marc Stein: Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, New Orleans Pelicans associate head coach James Borrego, and Minnesota Timberwolves lead assistant Micah Nori.

Cavs Choosing Between 3 Head Coach Finalists

Micah Nori

Of the three, the least is known about Nori, who became a hot name during the 2024 NBA Playoffs. This arguably makes him the most intriguing candidate. Indeed, his coaching philosophy and level of tactical prowess really won’t be known until he actually gets the job. All that can be said about Nori with certainty is that he’s an experienced and charismatic coach.

However, Nori’s personality may be an x-factor, as J.B. Bickerstaff is said to have lost the locker room before his dismissal.

The Cavs tuned out their former head coach because they questioned his strategies. Yet, connecting with people is a skill in and of itself. If players aren’t buying in because they don’t understand the point, a coach who can effectively communicate ideas to them in a concise manner will be able to avoid that potential pitfall. All that coach would then have to do is demonstrate that he’s a bright basketball mind.

With Nori having coached under Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, former Canadian men’s basketball head coach Jay Triano, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, and 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey over the past 15 years, he may know the game as well as anyone.

Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson and Borrego have taken turns being considered the frontrunner for the Cavs opening. In fact, they very well may be neck and neck. Both candidates have experience as head coaches, with Atkinson leading the Brooklyn Nets and Borrego captaining the Charlotte Hornets.

Atkinson has been called a culture-builder. However, he’s truly a teacher, devoted to the skill and personal development of his players. With his emphasis on fundamentals, analytics, and toughness, he has a simple recipe for success. It doesn’t hurt to that he’s something of a branch off of Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree.

Atkinson got his NBA start under former New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. One can imagine this is where his interest in analytics began, as D’Antoni was an early proponent of the space and pace approach teams across the league have adopted. After D’Antoni resigned in 2012, Atkinson moved on to the Atlanta Hawks. There, he coached under Popovich disciple Mike Budenholzer for three seasons.

By proxy, this would have led to Atkinson placing an emphasis on players making quick and simple decisions, a core tenet of Popovichian basketball. Budenholzer would have just heightened his awareness of the importance of the 3-ball.

James Borrego

Borrego is a direct branch of Popovich’s tree, as he was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs from 2015-16 to 2017-18. However, he began his career as an NBA coach in 2010, with what was then the New Orleans Hornets.

Notably, the Hornets were coached by Monty Williams, who began his career under former NBA guard and head coach Nate McMillan. McMillan, one of the winningest head coaches, learned under Paul Westphal, a Hall of Fame player. Westphal learned under a Hall of Fame head coach in Cotton Fitzsimmons with the Phoenix Suns. Fitzsimmons coached under Hall of Fame head coach Tex Winter at Kansas State. In Winter, Fitzsimmons, Westphal, McMillan, and Williams are five of the most successful head coaches in basketball history.

Though the coaching philosophies differ from coach to coach, each of them emphasized the basics: spacing, passing, and cutting. Borrego’s a bit more innovate than this cut-and-dry philosophy would suggest. However, basketball is a simple game, which is why fundamentals are so important.


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