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Kenny Atkinson Out as Brooklyn Nets Coach, GM Sean Marks and Players React

Atkinson departs in fourth season as Nets head coach

After an early-morning announcement that Kenny Atkinson was out as Brooklyn Nets head coach, general manager Sean Marks, new head coach Jacque Vaughn and players addressed the change at HSS Training Center on Saturday afternoon.

“I will say this, where the team has come from over the course of the last the last three-and-a-half, four years, we need to be very appreciative of what Kenny has done,” said Marks. “Driving a culture, developing players, being instrumental in that and he has taken us to where we stand today. I think the discussions that he and I had were what’s best for the Nets, for a variety of different reasons, which I don’t think either one of us will get into. It’s time for another voice in the locker room and it’s time that we both part ways.”

Atkinson was Marks’ initial head coaching hire after arriving in Brooklyn as general manager in February 2016. The franchise was in the midst of a 21-win season and would win just 20 games in Atkinson’s first full season as the organization began an aggressive, youth-oriented rebuild. They won 28 games the following season, and then, in 2018-19, brought the franchise back to the playoffs with a 42-40 record. They are currently 28-34, and Atkinson completes his Nets tenure with a 118-190 record and 20 games remaining in his fourth season.

“You know, I would’ve loved Kenny to be here long-term,” said Marks. “I think we all have ideas that this is going to last forever and we’ll keep building this thing together. We had a great run. 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’ve made plenty of mistakes. We’ve had a lot of fun along the way. And these are the circumstances. And the position that 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’re at.”

The 2019-20 season brought changes and challenges to Brooklyn. The Nets acquired three players with All-NBA resumes over the summer in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler were also part of the roster makeover.

It was expected that Durant would miss the season with the Achilles’ injury suffered in last season’s NBA Finals, but it has been a rollercoaster season in many respects. The preseason trip to China was overshadowed by a league-wide controversy. Irving ended up playing just 20 games due to a shoulder impingement, undergoing surgery last week. Caris LeVert missed 24 games after thumb surgery, sidelined about the same time Irving first left the lineup in mid-November. The death of Kobe Bryant hit several Nets hard, particularly Irving, who had recently returned to action, and Spencer Dinwiddie.

The Nets won 12 of their first 18 games without Irving — with LeVert sidelined as well — and were 16-13 on Dec. 21. But they lost seven straight after that. Brooklyn rebounded to win seven of 10 games before the All-Star break, but dropped six of their first eight coming out of the break.

Through it all, Marks said, he and Atkinson had regular conversations about the state of the team that built up to a decision made Friday night after a 139-120 win over San Antonio.

“It’s a culmination of events,” said Marks. “It’s a culmination of me asking Kenny and Kenny asking me. It may come as a surprise, but it’s having frank conversations with each other. I think Kenny looks at the world like he’s brutally honest not only with people around him but with himself. I give him a lot of credit for that when he sits there and goes, ‘It’s time. Whether my voice is lost or they’re not engaging me like they should, that’s where we are in this conversation.’ But there wasn’t one specific event.”

“I think everybody was pretty frustrated the last few weeks,” said Caris LeVert. “We lost a couple games that we felt like we should’ve won. It wasn’t just on him, we’re the players on the court, I would say we were more frustrated than he was. Everybody was frustrated, we were losing games like that, it’s not a good situation.”

The team was informed of the change Saturday morning, before the news was released, in a locker room meeting that included Marks, Vaughn and the players.

“You’re definitely shocked, surprised,” said Joe Harris. “I think for the guys that have been here for the last few years with him, you’re upset. You learned a lot. But there’s also, it’s one of those things where you’re just grateful for the time, the opportunity we had with him. We all loved playing for Kenny, grew a lot as players and as people. A valuable experience. But it’s one of those things where, the NBA, at the end of the day, it is a business. And stuff like this happens with teammates, coaches, and it’s tough. It’s tough to see, but it is the nature of the NBA itself.”

Harris and Dinwiddie came to define the Atkinson tenure in many ways. The coach had a reputation for player development, and Harris and Dinwiddie were young players looking for a second chance when Marks acquired them in 2016.

Dinwiddie is currently leading Brooklyn with 20.5 points and 6.5 assists per game, while Harris led the NBA in shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range last season.

“Kenny’s my guy,” said Dinwiddie. “He was great and like I told him in a text, I said, I needed to be able to be in a situation and an environment where I could make mistakes and that was critical to my development and he afford me that opportunity. Believing you’re a great player is one thing, but being able to go out there and not look over your shoulder and think that you’re gonna come out if you miss a shot or turn it over is paramount in anybody’s development, any NBA player. That was huge for me and I’ll always appreciate it.”

Vaughn has been with Brooklyn as Atkinson’s top assistant since the start of his tenure. He was previously the head coach of the Orlando Magic from 2012-15, let go in the middle of his third season with a 58-158 record. He previously had a 12-year playing career with five franchises, including two seasons with the Nets beginning in 2004.

Vaughn is not listed with an interim tag, but Marks did not speculate on his future beyond the remainder of this season.

“I think we're going to let the season unfold as it does,” said Marks. “Jacque is the head coach right now, so let’s let these 20 games play out and let the momentum hopefully build and we'll go into the playoffs and we'll go from there.”

“I’ve challenged the guys to make the most of these 20 games and, hopefully, it’s more than that,” said Vaughn. “What’s going to happen is going to happen. I’m going to give you all I’ve got. I’ll definitely do that.”

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