The Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson “mutually agreed” to part ways, said general manager Sean Marks on Saturday (March 7th) at the team’s practice facility.
This is Atkinson’s fourth season at the helm of a franchise that was in tatters when he took over. No draft picks, a roster devoid of talent, and a salary cap nightmare is what he inherited. Along with Marks, Atkinson helped establish a new culture and develop players like Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Caris LeVert.
Atkinson’s overall record is sub .500 (118-190) but the team is poised to make its second consecutive playoff appearance and he is a big reason for this franchise’s turnaround.
But, with the addition of superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the dynamics, pressure, and expectations changed and, according to Marks, after lengthy deliberation (months) it was time for a change.
“It was after this deliberation with Kenny over the course of the last two, three months – ongoing conversations, I can’t put a time on it – we decided if there was ever an opportunity for change and to put the Nets in a better place – whether that was personnel, whether that was on the court, whether that was even either one of us – we would have that honest conversation. And that’s where we left it last night and this morning where we discussed this. Kenny, myself, and ownership and we arrived at this decision.”
In those conversations Atkinson said he felt his voice no longer “carried the same weight” in the locker room. Since the announcement, sources have confirmed to BSO that there was some unhappiness within the locker room, nothing out of the ordinary in a competitive environment. But for whatever reason, Marks and ownership (Joe Tsai) felt a change was needed.
Of course the obvious dynamic change was the addition of Durant and Irving to the locker room. Both are veterans, NBA champions, and Durant might go down as one of the ten best players to ever play the game. Coaching players of that caliber, who are mercurial in nature, is a different challenge.
“Dealing with a young, up-and-coming team is much different than coaching superstar players,” said Joe Harris. “It’s a much different dynamic.”
To be fair, Durant is rehabbing his ruptured Achilles tendon and hasn’t had the opportunity to work with Atkinson, so the role he played in this decision is likely minimal at best.
While we were waiting to hear from Nets players on their reaction to the Kenny Atkinson news. A rehabbing 7 footer was out on the floor. Business as usual 🤔😏 #NBA #NBATwitter pic.twitter.com/qLsiF1yLkz
— Jarod Hector (@jshector) March 8, 2020
Irving however did suit up and play, though limited with his own injuries, 20 games this season. He reportedly didn’t always like rotation choices and particular sets the team ran. Again, none of that is out of the ordinary in the NBA.
However, stars have tremendous say in personnel decisions within a franchise. Irving, and to a larger degree Durant, can influence what a team decides to do as so much of the success on and off the floor are tied to them.
Tsai and Marks did “canvass” the players about the direction of the team and Atkinson’s voice in the locker room. Nothing suggests that any player actively complained or wanted Atkinson gone. However, if Irving or Durant lobbied heavily for Atkinson he would likely still be the coach.
As it stands now, Jacque Vaughn will take over for the remainder of the season and however long the playoff run lasts. Barring something drastic, the Nets will set their sights on someone to lead this franchise that has different expectations.
No longer the overachieving, plucky upstarts. With Durant, back from injury, and Irving, this team has championship aspirations. Managing that and dealing with the egos and personalities within an NBA locker room is no simple task and will take the right type of individual.
Rumors are already swirling around Lakers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue. He and Irving won an NBA title together and if anyone knows how to manage big egos and persnickety personalities, it’s Lue.
Marks came from the San Antonio Spurs organization, so it’s likely he would look for someone connected to the NBA’s model franchise. The Gregg Popovich coaching tree is sturdy with lots of branches. Perhaps “Pop” himself is an option. That’s one man who brings instant credibility and can maintain a locker room.
The rest of this season and the offseason promises to be interesting in Brooklyn.