Brooklyn Nets Fire Head Coach Kenny Atkinson During Injury-Plagued Season
The fourth-year head coach had the Nets in the playoff race despite injuries
In surprising news, the Brooklyn Nets announced on Saturday that they have parted ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson after nearly four seasons. The move comes after the Nets beat the San Antonio Spurs 139-120 on Friday night, and after they had previously beaten the third-seed Celtics in Boston on Tuesday. After what most teams would consider a good week, it is more than a bit strange to see Brooklyn fire its coach, but it gets weirder the more you dive into the context of the situation.
Over the summer, the Nets signed Kyrie Irving in free agency and traded for Kevin Durant, solidifying their foundation for the next few years. The only problem is that Durant has missed, and will miss, the entire season with an Achilles tendon injury, and Irving has similarly missed a huge chunk of this season, playing in only twenty games before being shut down with a shoulder injury earlier this month.
Even with all that, Atkinson still had the Nets in the hunt for the Eastern Conference playoffs; at the time of his firing, Brooklyn was seventh in the East, five games clear of ninth place. So, what happened?
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News put it bluntly on Twitter shortly after the firing:
Here is something you can take to the bank: If Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant wanted Kenny Atkinson to be the coach, he'd be the coach.
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) March 7, 2020
Meanwhile, SNY’s Ian Begley pushed forward a different report, saying that a certain subset of players wanted Atkinson out:
Some players felt that Kenny Atkinson had lost some of the locker room recently, which is fairly common when teams struggle. This may ultimately be inconsequential but you probably won’t find a bigger Mark Jackson fan than Rich Kleiman, Kevin Durant’s business partner/manager.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) March 7, 2020
It’s true that the NBA is a superstar league, so if Irving and Durant wanted Atkinson out now, then that would explain why he is gone. But it’s also strange that the move came now, twenty games from the end of the season and with the Nets in playoff contention. After all, neither Irving nor Durant will suit up for Brooklyn the rest of the way.
Perhaps this was Brooklyn’s way of securing a tank out of the playoffs, in order to grab a lottery pick to team up with their two stars next season. Or maybe Begley is right, and the locker room situation became untenable with Atkinson there. What’s clear is that Brooklyn will be in the market for a new head coach this summer — Jacque Vaughn will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of this season — and with the return of their two superstars on the way, the team will look very different from the one currently fighting for a playoff spot.
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