Details are beginning to emerge in the aftermath of the Brooklyn Nets decision to part with coach Kenny Atkinson. The Nets officially announced the move on Saturday and named assistant coach Jacque Vaughn as the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Apparently, one of the issues with Atkinson within the organization was the fact that Nets star guard Kyrie Irving “soured” on him during the current campaign, according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Irving would reportedly like to see his former coach from his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ty Lue, serve as Brooklyn’s next head coach. Lue is currently an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In a player’s league and on a team where star players’ voices undoubtedly matter for a franchise that yearns to matter, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Durant and Irving wanted to keep Atkinson around, but general manager Sean Marks was hellbent on firing a friend, someone who helped build the Nets into a respectable product.
Irving soured on Atkinson early, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and currently prefers Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue to be the team’s next head coach. Lue was the head coach in Cleveland when Irving hit the winning shot in the 2016 NBA Finals and was in talks to take the Lakers job before discussions broke down.
In a press conference on Saturday, Nets general manager Sean Marks said the decision to move on from Atkinson was made because the team needed a new voice to help them take a step forward.
“I would have loved Kenny to be here long-term,” Marks said. “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. We enjoyed each other, I think we grew immensely. He grew as a coach, hopefully I’ve grown as a GM and so forth. We made plenty of mistakes, and we had fun along the way.
“These are the circumstances. The position we find ourselves in now is, ‘What helps us get it to the next level?’ 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.”
The Nets clearly didn’t have faith that Atkinson was the right guy to turn the team into a legitimate contender, and those feelings might have been mutual. According to Goodwill, Atkinson wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of coaching the notoriously mercurial Irving and Kevin Durant moving forward. According to a quote from an unnamed source in the Yahoo report, “Kenny pushed for the parting just as much, if not more than Brooklyn.”
Atkinson’s time in Brooklyn is over, but it likely won’t be too long before he finds another NBA home, as he expected to be in high demand on the coaching market come this offseason, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Similarly, considering the talent on the team, Brooklyn’s coaching gig will likely be one of the most coveted available openings.