The Brooklyn Nets decided they would “mutually agree to part ways” with head coach Kenny Atkinson after almost four seasons with the team. The move came as a surprise because the Nets (28-34) are currently in the playoff hunt for a second season in a row. Atkinson also never got a chance to coach the Nets with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing at the same time.
Durant sat out this season recovering from a torn Achilles. The Nets just shut down Irving for the remainder of the season to have shoulder surgery.
Over nearly four seasons, Atkinson had a 118-190 record with the Nets. Through 62 games this season, Atkinson won 28. Despite being six games under .500, the Nets occupy the #7 playoff seed in the shallow Eastern Conference.
According to a recent update by the Mirage Sportsbook in Las Vegas, the Brooklyn Nets are 150/1 odds to win the 2020 NBA Championship.
A Coach Grows in Brooklyn
Atkinson, 52, grew up on Long Island, New York and excelled in multiple sports. He played collegiate ball at Richmond and was a point guard on the Spiders squad that went to the Sweet 16 in 1988. Atkinson never made it to the NBA, but he played in the now-defunct CBA for a couple of seasons. He played pro ball in Europe (bouncing around Spain, Italy, Germany, and France) for nearly 15 seasons before he took his first head coaching job for a club team in Paris.
Mike D’Antoni hired Atkinson for his first NBA assistant job with the New York Knicks in 2008. In 2012, Atkinson joined the Atlanta Hawks as an assistant coach under Mike Budenholzer. After four years in Atlanta, Atkinson finally earned a chance to become a head coach in the NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets hired Atkinson before the start of the 2016-17 season. The Nets were in the process of rebuilding the team. Atkinson and the Nets went 20-62 in his first season. In his second season, the Nets won 28 games, but were still bad.
Last season, Atkinson posted a winning record with a 42-40 clip despite not having any All-Star caliber players aside from D’Angelo Russell. Atkinson guided the Nets to their first playoff appearance in four seasons. With the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Nets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. Despite the obvious mismatch, Atkinson managed to squeeze out one playoff victory before losing in five games.
Irving, Durant, and Atkinson
In the offseason, the Nets and Atkinson landed a huge coup. They out-bid the New York Knicks and acquired the top-two free agents on the market with Durant and Irving. The Nets knew they wouldn’t have Durant for at least a full season, but expected Irving to come in right away and make an impact.
Irving played only 20 games due to numerous maladies. He averaged 27.4 points and 6.4 assists per game when he suited up for the Nets. The Nets were only 8-12 when Irving played.
The Nets were reeling after a disastrous 118-79 loss to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday in Brooklyn. Atkinson claimed he resigned because he lost the locker room.
“My voice is not what it once was here. It’s time,” Kenny Atkinson told Nets general manager Sean Marks.
“I would’ve loved to have Kenny here long-term,” said Marks. “It was time for another voice in that locker room.”
Despite reports that say otherwise, all signs point toward the moody and mercurial Irving as the core of discontent with Atkinson.
“Durant and Irving never connected with Atkinson,” reported The Athletic. “There was a growing belief that they did not have interest in playing for him when this team is whole again next season.”
Veterans on the Nets — especially DeAndre Jordan — clashed with Atkinson’s playing rotation. Jordan didn’t like the fact that Jarrett Allen started at center and he came off the bench.
Nets Future: Lue?
Jacque Vaughn, who made a name for himself at Kansas, stepped in to fill the void as interim head coach. The Nets will search for a full-time coach in the offseason. For now, it’s up to Vaughn to prep the team for the upcoming playoffs. If the season were to end today, the Nets would face the defending champion Toronto Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs.
Rumors suggest that Irving pulled a LeBron and called for a regime change. Irving would love to install ex-Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue in Brooklyn. Lue won an NBA title with LeBron and Lue in 2016.
Ex-Knicks coach and current NBA broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy is another name that popped up as a potential coach of the Nets.
Mark Jackson is another name that surfaced. He coached the Golden State Warriors (121-109 record in three seasons) before Steve Kerr took over in the mid-2010s.
The Nets dumped Atkinson to appease growing discontent with their stars, but they need to be careful with how they handle the next head coach. Otherwise, the Nets will end up like the pro team across the East River that churns and burns their head coaches every other year.
Knicks Next for Atkinson?
Atkinson could return to the Atlanta Hawks, who have been bottom feeders in the east once again. If the Hawks fire Lloyd Pierce, Atkinson will be on the short-list of potential candidates.
“Kenny will be back coaching soon,” an anonymous source told The Athletic. “He works too hard. Works his ass off. He will probably take the time away and replay the scenarios and relationships that went wrong, and come back stronger for the job he wants.”
“The friggin’ Knicks should’ve called Kenny Atkinson once the Brooklyn Nets dumped him,” said actor and long-time Knicks fan Michael Rapaport.
The Knicks need a coach and Atkinson seems the logical choice. After all, he grew up a Knicks fan and got his start with the Knicks. The Knicks need a coach that understands the modern game, but roaming the sidelines at Madison Square Garden can be dangerous to your health.
The Knicks’ culture is heavily toxic so long as James Dolan owns the team. The head coaching job with the Knicks has been a dead-end for competent coaches such as Mike D’Antoni (288 games), Mike Woodson (188 games), Derek Fisher (136 games), Jeff Hornacek (164 games), David Fizdale (104 games), and Phil Jackson (general manager).