Friday night, Kenny Atkinson coached the Nets to a 139-120 rout of the Spurs, helping solidify Brooklyn as a playoff team in the East despite getting just 20 games out of Kyrie Irving this year and zero out of Kevin Durant due to injuries.
Saturday morning, the Nets and Atkinson parted ways.
The Brooklyn Nets and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson have mutually agreed to part ways. Jacque Vaughn will serve as head coach for the remainder of the season.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 7, 2020
It was a stunning, unexpected move — and reportedly not as mutual as the Nets suggest. This was a firing.
Source tells me in regards to Kenny Atkinson’s departure: “(Some) of the players wanted him gone.”
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) March 7, 2020
There are only two players within the organization who have that kind of power: Irving and Durant. At the very least, if they wanted him as coach he would be the coach.
Nets general manager Sean Marks denied it was a firing, saying at a press conference, “this didn’t involve the players,” adding it was “amicable” and mutual.
Atkinson was brought in by Marks as one of his first moves and together they built the team-first, blue-collar culture that turned the Nets from the team in the worst position in the NBA into a playoff squad. The Nets became a team good enough — and cap-wise well-positioned enough — to attract Irving and Durant as free agents.
But bringing in two players used to winning on their terms has meant a culture change within the organization. That has not always been smooth.
“After discussions with Kenny about the progress of the season, we mutually agreed that a coaching change would be in the best interest of the team,” Marks said in a statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision, however the organization believes it is one that is necessary at this time. Kenny was instrumental in developing our players and building the identity and culture we have become known for over these past four seasons. The foundation he helped put into place here is one that we will continue to build on in the coming seasons. We are forever grateful for all of Kenny’s hard work and dedication to the Nets and the Brooklyn community. Kenny, Laura and the Atkinson family will always remain a part of our Nets family and we wish them nothing but the best in the future.”
Owner Joseph Tsai Tweeted this out (and this move is not made without his approval).
I am extremely grateful to Kenny Atkinson for what he’s done for our franchise over the years. If we did not have him, we would not be where we are with promising young guys still improving. All the best Kenny.
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) March 7, 2020
Atkinson will not be out of a job long if he wants a coaching job, multiple rebuilding franchises around the league could use him and would be interested.
Jacque Vaughn, who spent two-and-a-half seasons as the head coach in Orlando, will serve as the coach for the rest of the season. The Nets are expected to hire a new coach for next season, one Irving and Durant will have some say in.
Vaughn takes over a team in seventh place in the Eastern Conference despite this being a “gap” year waiting for their stars to get healthy. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Nets a 91 percent chance to make the playoffs.