Brooklyn Nets or Nuts? Nets’ Kenny Atkinson axed in stunning fashion as head coach


Courtesy of Flickr (David Jones)

Isaiah Hinton

“This was an extremely difficult decision, however the organization believes it is one that is necessary at this time,” General Manager Sean Marks said. “Kenny was instrumental in developing our players and building the identity and culture we have become known for over these past four seasons.”

The Nets, having signed mercurial talent Kyrie Irving and injured superstar Kevin Durant in the offseason, are in the midst of a transition period, where they can evaluate talent that could play alongside their two stars. 

Brooklyn has young stars in point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and center Jarrett Allen, as well as sharpshooter Joe Harris and stud Caris LeVert. With LeVert, Irving, and Durant playing a combined 58 games as of early March, it is a surprise to see Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference playoff discussion, let alone in a playoff place as the No.8 seed. Going back as far as last year, Atkinson took a squad — in which the highest-paid players included Allen Crabbe, Kenneth Faried, Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll — to 42 wins, along with a playoff win against the Philadelphia 76ers. These achievements take coaching talent, talent that Atkinson has.

Some players in the team were not happy with Atkinson, however, and went to owner Joe Tsai to voice their concerns, according to reports from NBA insiders such as Shams Charania of The Athletic. Although it is not confirmed that Irving or Durant were part of this disillusioned group, it is clear that their two voices hold the highest amount of esteem in the eyes of the Nets’ hierarchy. Durant accused the Nets of not building a culture capable of winning an NBA title, and Kyrie never connected with Atkinson. In addition, the decision by Atkinson to bench DeAndre Jordan did little to endear himself to his two superstars. These revelations put the two basketball stars under the microscope, but also generate more confusing questions regarding the Nets and Atkinson’s departure.

What culture is being developed in Brooklyn? A culture in which defensive effort is not emphasized due to either pure incompetence or the hope that the offense can outscore their opponent? Or is it a culture in which star players such as Kyrie Irving can openly say that the team needs a couple of more pieces to succeed, even though he has vastly underperformed in his shortened season?  The main question is, who is in control of the Nets?

The answer to the last question is Durant and Irving. Initial rumors for the next coach include Mark Jackson and former coach of LeBron James in Cleveland, Tyronn Lue.

Saying goodbye to Atkinson is a knee-jerk decision that throws the work of a previous regime out of the window in in order to appease a few bankable stars who may or may not provide the success the team is craving. Sound familiar? That is because this seems to be a move that the Nets’ chaotic next-door neighbor, the New York Knicks, would make. For a team that is lauded by the media and itself for their stability and lack of problematic issues, the Nets, at least in this instance, might be more akin to their inner-city rival than they care to admit.