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Seven names to watch as potential next Nets coach

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Nobody saw this coming.

Kenny Atkinson is out as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Everyone with the Nets says this was a mutual parting of the ways, that Atkinson’s voice was no longer resonating with this team and he had soured on coaching Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Everyone not on the Nets payroll will point out that with the volume of turnover on the Brooklyn roster, it’s not that Atkinson’s message got old, it’s that some players didn’t like the blue-collar, everyone-is-held-accountable style. Fingers are pointed at Irving and Durant as pushing Atkinson out, the Nets have tried to deny that.

Bottom line: If Irving and Durant wanted Atkinson as their coach, he’d still be the coach.

This means whoever will be the next Brooklyn coach will get at least a behind-the-scenes nod of approval from the two superstars.

Who will be that coach? Here are seven names to watch:

1) Mark Jackson.

It’s easy to play connect the dots here: Durant’s friend and business partner Rich Kleiman is a big Mark Jackson fan. When Kleiman’s name came up as a possible Knicks president, it was reported he would quickly hire Jackson. Plus, Jackson is a Brooklyn native.

Currently, Jackson works as an ESPN/ABC game analyst, before that he was the head coach of the Golden State Warriors (before Steve Kerr). A lot of people within the Warriors credit Jackson for laying the foundation of the team’s championship defense, but those same people will note Jackson was not easy to work with and feuded with everyone from the front office to his assistant coaches. If Durant and Irving did not like the direct, technical style of Atkinson as coach, the more motivational, rah-rah style of Jackson may be the call.

2) Tyronn Lue.

This, along with Jackson, was one of the first names I heard pop up from league sources speculating about who would be next in Brooklyn. Lue has won a title as a coach and done it with Kyrie Irving as his point guard. Vincent Goodwill at Yahoo Sports reports Irving wants Lue to get the job.

A former player respected by current players and currently sitting on the bench in Los Angeles as a Doc Rivers assistant, Lue evolved into a better Xs and Os coach than his critics give him credit for. More importantly, Lue has proven he can coach superstars at the highest level of the game — that may count for a lot in Brooklyn.

3) Jason Kidd.

The greatest former Nets player coming home would be the marketing department’s dream, plus Kidd is incredibly respected by players. Like with Lue and Jackson, if the Nets are looking to make a break from the technical and direct coaching style of Atkinson, Kidd could be the answer. The challenge here is, Kidd already coached the Nets back in 2014, then tried to leverage his position into more power in the organization, when that failed he bolted for Milwaukee. Do the Nets want to go back down that road?

4) Jeff Van Gundy.

The current CBA stipulates Van Gundy’s name has to come up in every coaching search. At least it feels that way. The former Knicks coach has dipped his toes back in the active coaching ranks by taking over the USA Basketball squads that qualified Team USA for the World Cup last summer. Van Gundy would bring the clout and gravitas to coach Durant and Irving, the question is would they want him?

5) David Fizdale.

If the Nets want to stick it to their cross-town rivals, this might be the call. The Knicks hired Fizdale in part because he was respected by top players — specifically LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from their Heat days — and had relationships with elite players. New York mistakenly thought Fizdale cold help recruit those stars. Instead, Irving and Durant went to the Nets (which was not so much about Fizdale as ownership). The warning sign here is Fizdale has gone 28-95 his last three seasons as a coach (between the Grizzlies and Knicks).

6) Mike D’Antoni.

He currently has a job as head coach of the Houston Rockets, but he is in the final year of his contract and good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks he will be back next season. D’Antoni is a proven winner who has coached superstars, adapted his system to fit with the talent he has, and can handle the New York media. This is a coach who belongs in the Hall of Fame, but that’s different than saying Durant, Irving, and the Brooklyn organization want him.

7) Jacque Vaughn.

Never count out the guy who has the job now, it is possible that Vaughn earns the gig by getting this roster to excel. He does have experience as the head coach in Orlando and a lot of coaches do better on their second job, having learned the hard lessons the first time around. That said, he will not get to coach Durant or Irving, so it would take a lot of convincing to see him get the gig full time.

Bonus notes:

Tom Thibodeau’s name comes up any time there is a coaching vacancy, but this seems a poor fit. Thibs is the kind of old-school coach the Nets just fired, plus Thibs is reportedly lobbying for the Knicks job just over the bridge

Another name that comes up a lot, Spurs assistant Becky Hamon. This would be a surprise — not because she’s not ready or couldn’t handle it, but rather that the Nets would make this her first top job. Coaching Durant and Irving on a title contender (or a team that believes it is a title contender) is not an entry-level position. She will get her chance someday (probably), but this is not the landing spot.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.


New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).