Kenny Atkinson was a terrific head coach for the Brooklyn Nets, but it was time for them to part ways.
One of the things that initially attracted Kevin Durant to leave the Bay Area and choose the Brooklyn Nets as his next destination was how Kenny Atkinson went about his business as being a head coach.
“I was doing a lot of YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson and watching interviews to see how he talked after games and stuff,” the superstar forward said during Nets media day on September 27th. “I really liked his approach to his craft as a coach and that’s what drew me in pretty quickly.”
However, six months later, it seems like there has been a major fallout between Atkinson and several players including Durant and Kyrie Irving within the organization, which ultimately led to the Nets and the Long Island native mutually agreeing to part ways.
A lot of people might say that the Nets are catering to their stars a bit too much, or they showed Atkinson no loyalty by giving him a chance to coach this team at full strength. But when you bring in two superstars and only have two years to win a championship with them while they’re still under contract, you can’t waste any time.
The NBA is a player’s league, and you need superstars to win championships. As an organization, if you aren’t willing to make your superstar players happy, then they will have no problem leaving in an era of ‘player empowerment.’
According to an article co-written by Alex Schiffer and Shams Charania of The Athletic, Atkinson was reportedly not willing to back away from some of his philosophies that many players felt could’ve been improved, such as his “equal opportunity” offense.
Durant also reportedly voiced that the Nets didn’t have the proper habits and cultural traits that are needed to win a championship during their airing of grievances meeting following their 39-point home loss against the Memphis Grizzlies.
As this report suggests, this is a situation where both sides were just not going to live up to their fullest potential together, and a new voice would be necessary to help lead this franchise to its first-ever NBA title.
Atkinson gives off the impression that he’s a proud man, and wanted to do things on his own terms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being confident in whatever you bring to the table; especially for a team that needs to go through a full-blown rebuild. However, if it starts to rub your best players the wrong way, then perhaps, a change is needed.
When the Nets hired Kenny Atkinson in April 2016, they viewed him as the guy who could implement the vision General Manager Sean Marks had for his team in the aftermath of the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce disaster of a trade. The Nets infamously lost their own three first-round picks and gave the Boston Celtics the right to swap picks in 2017 which allowed them to draft their current cornerstone stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Over the course of his three-plus seasons as the Nets coach, Atkinson was able to find diamonds in the rough such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell and turn them all into important pieces that can help teams win games.
Russell needed Atkinson, as Russell was coming from a Los Angeles Lakers team that wasn’t giving him the opportunity to thrive as a player. At times, Atkinson was hard on Russell, but D’Lo learned that carving out a larger role on a team is earned, not given, and his hard work ultimately earned him an All-Star selection in 2019.
From day one, Atkinson came in and ran his system regardless of the type of players he had on his team. His system consisted of a lot of ball movement, three-point shooting, and a pick-and-roll offense.
It was very effective at times since he was able to bring in players that were all-in on his offense, and was fun to watch as the ball would hop around the three-point line or to the open man inside. The chemistry was so strong that the players would never give up and always fight back even when they were down big.
One particular shot Atkinson made known that he wasn’t a big fan of was the mid-range shot. According to the NBA Advanced Stats page, Brooklyn currently ranks in the bottom six of getting shots between 5-20 feet.
The Nets also aren’t known for posting up their players all too often. As most basketball fans know, Durant, Irving, and LeVert love getting their looks in the mid-range game. KD, in particular, has made it known that he believes that the Warriors’ motion offense will only work in the first couple of rounds in the playoffs, but then they’ll need to eventually allow him to take over games and use his skill set in isolation and on post-ups.
At some point, Atkinson was going to have to give in and allow his best players to get the looks they prefer to get, so instead, he thought he might as well move on and go to a place where his system could be implemented.
Kenny Atkinson left his mark in Brooklyn, and was a very necessary part of turning this organization around, but think of this as a start-up company. The Nets had little-to-no assets that were going to help them in the future, and were put in a position to hire people that had potential, but would need further development to live up to it.
Given his record of developing players including Jeremy Lin during the “Linsanity” phase in New York, Atkinson was deemed the man for this job, so in a way, he was a project manager for an important phase of the organization’s development.
Atkinson overachieved with what he had, but his area of expertise was player development; not necessarily game-planning in crucial moments and managing the egos of superstar players. Now that the Nets have a roster that has two superstars, and a multitude of players who are ready to contribute to a championship-contending team, it is time for them to hire a coach who can take them to that level (fingers crossed that it’s Gregg Popovich).
But if the Nets don’t deliver on bringing a championship to Brooklyn, then this move could look very bad in hindsight. There will now be a lot of pressure on KD, Kyrie, and crew to deliver.
On the flip side, there is no doubt that Kenny Atkinson will have a new job lined up soon. Perhaps as soon as next season.