With just 20 games left of the regular season and less than 24 hours after the Brooklyn Nets defeated the San Antonio Spurs 139-120 at Barclays Center, the organization announced that it has mutually parted ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson.
Although professional sports organizations have become big on saying both parties were amicable regarding the split and that it was “mutually agreed on,” let’s face it, Atkinson was fired.
In nearly four seasons with the Nets, Atkinson leaves with a record of 118-190, though with the acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last off-season, Brooklyn is poised to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference and even the NBA as a whole, for years to come. Atkinson, who arrived in Brooklyn with few draft picks or assets, was able to help build a team featuring guys like Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Joe Harris.
The decision came following multiple conversation between Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks over the direction of the team and Atkinson’s ability to influence it, Marks said in a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
“I would have loved Kenny to be here long-term,” Marks said at the team’s practice facility. “I think we all have ideas that this is going to last forever, and we’ll keep building this together. We had a great run for four years.”
Ultimately, though, the Nets are in a position where it needs to find out what helps the organization get to the next level, he said.
“And I think what we debated and what we deliberated on was this was a time where the team needs another voice, and that’s where we are at,” Marks added.
Marks stayed true to the narrative that the organization and Atkinson mutually agreed that the change was necessary at this time, without mentioning particular reasons.
“I would like to get specific and granular on all different types of things,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, this is a compromise both Kenny and I and ownership came up with.”
Atkinson’s main assistant, Jacque Vaughn, a former head coach of the Orlando Magic, will assume Atkinson’s duties for the rest of the regular season. With just 20 games left, the Nets currently sit at 28-34 and are No. 7 in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, former and current Nets players took to social media and spoke with reporters to express their opinions.
Dinwiddie said that although there were some spats between the players and staff, that kind of stuff happens in any NBA locker room.
“I think Kenny’s always been admired for his work ethic and his commitment to player development; I don’t think that’s changed at all,” he said.
Harris mentioned that he was shocked and surprised by the news.
“For the guys that have been here for the last few years with him, you’re upset,” Harris said. “But also, you’re just grateful for the time and opportunity you had with him. We all loved playing for Kenny.”
LeVert, who scored a career-high 51 points and recorded his first career triple-double in two separate games, said the news caught him off guard.
“Anybody that knows me knows me and Kenny were extremely close,” LeVert said. “He was huge for my development on and off the court really. From day one we were together. Obviously it hurts.”
Whether the decision was in fact mutual as Marks insisted on Saturday, or if Atkinson was simply fired with less than a quarter left of the season, at the end of the day, the NBA is a business, and it is likely that Atkinson will be a hot target for several teams this off-season.
Photo: (Mary Schwalm/Associated Press)