The Brooklyn Nets just shocked the NBA Community Saturday morning with the news that the Nets and head coach Kenny Atkinson have agreed to part ways. Reports are surfacing that Atkinson wanted to be gone and that may be true but the Nets should have said no if it was all his decision.
Atkinson’s departure, no matter who’s to blame makes no sense. Let’s go with the notion that it was the Nets’ brass who initiated the change. If so, then why? Atkinson had coached the Nets for four seasons and accumulated a record of 118-190. Terrible numbers but he was learning.
We can throw his first two seasons out the window as the Nets’ team was just awful. But it was what he did in his third and fourth seasons that changed his coaching status.
He guided a team of players no one wanted and took them to the playoffs. During the 2019 offseason, the Nets made three bold moves when they acquired Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and Kevin Durant. According to Bleacher Report, those moves may have been the biggest reason for Atkinson leaving.
Reports are making it clear that he did not want to coach the new duo. However, it’s also painting a picture that he was scared of the expectations and that’s false. What coach doesn’t want to win? What it boils down to is that Atkinson lost the locker room and with good reason.
The team he assembled is no longer his. The Brooklyn Nets took the Los Angeles Lakers route and brought in superstars while Kenny was building a contender from the ground up. Then to make matters worse, none of the players who came in were actually contributing the way they were before arriving in Brooklyn.
The Nets had incredible chemistry under Kenny Atkinson last season. Players liked & respected him. They played hard. Things clearly changed with a new group. Not necessarily Kyrie or any one player’s fault but it’s impossible to not consider a star’s influence with this decision. https://t.co/GdWCv3TTpP
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) March 7, 2020
Durant is out for the year. Irving has only played in 20 games and Jordan is averaging just 21.8 minutes per game. But the real reason fans are baffled and believe this is a bad decision is what Atkinson has done for Nets basketball in general.
The NYC Hoops scene is now divided. Before, it was just a myth as to who the city of New York belonged to. For the last two seasons, the Nets have staked a claim as the top draw. And the reason for that has been Kenny Atkinson. Although he has had trouble with in-game management, the culture that he brought to the city was different. Let’s be clear, without Atkinson’s’ approach, there was no way Irving and Durant would have thought of Brooklyn as a top destination.
But this is a new age league where players rule and coaches play the backseat. There has been issues brewing for the Nets all season and someone had to take the fall. Not saying that it was Irving and Durant causing trouble but the Nets did have better chemistry with D’Angelo Russell last year and this season when Irving was in street clothes. Yes, wins were hard to come by but they played as a team.
If the rumors are true and Atkinson no longer wanted to be a part of the team and the superstars wanted him gone, then that has more to do with ownership than the coach. The Nets are so desperate for a winner, they let players who have yet to contribute to the team destroy what took 3.5 years to build.
Even without Durant and Irving, the Brooklyn Nets are still in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. While Irving was out, there was talk that Spencer Dinwiddie should have been picked as an All-Star. Caris LeVert has played the best ball of his career and look at players such as Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen. Atkinson turned them into solid core players.
It’s not the case that Atkinson was scared of coaching superstars. It’s the case that those superstars didn’t want to follow his vision. So, as he walks out the door of the Barclay’s Center, let’s remember Kenny Atkinson as the man who changed the culture of Nets basketball so much so that he would not let the culture change him.