Nets, Coach Kenny Atkinson Agree To Part Ways

GM Says It Was Time For New Voice In Locker Room

Ryan Chatelain
March 07, 2020 - 7:33 pm

Kenny Atkinson, the coach who took over a down-in-the-dumps Brooklyn Nets team with meager draft assets and brought it to the playoffs in his third season, is now out of a job.

In a stunning move Saturday morning, the Nets announced they have mutually parted ways with the 52-year-old coach.

“After discussions with Kenny about the progress of the season, we mutually agreed that a coaching change would be in the best interest of the team,” general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision, however the organization believes it is one that is necessary at this time.

“Kenny was instrumental in developing our players and building the identity and culture we have become known for over these past four seasons. The foundation he helped put into place here is one that we will continue to build on in the coming seasons. We are forever grateful for all of Kenny’s hard work and dedication to the Nets and the Brooklyn community."

Atkinson, who was rewarded with a contract extension in April 2019, went 118-90 in 3½ seasons with Brooklyn. The Nets are 28-34 this season, are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and have lost five of their last seven, although they soundly beat the San Antonio Spurs 139-120 on Friday night.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson

Jacque Vaughn, one of Atkinson's assistants, has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

Under Atkinson, the Nets' win total grew from 20 to 28 to 42 in his first three seasons. Together, he and Marks set out to change the culture of the organization. After previous GM Billy King paid dearly in draft picks to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics in 2013, Marks and Atkinson rebuilt the team by emphasizing the development of young talent, and Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris were among their biggest success stories.

With their arrow pointing up after reaching the postseason as a No. 6 seed in 2019, the Nets were the big winners of free agency last summer, reeling in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. However, Durant is missing the entire season while he recovers from the torn Achilles he suffered in last year's NBA Finals with Golden State, and Irving is out for the rest of the year, too, having played in just 20 games before undergoing shoulder surgery.

Atkinson never had the chance to coach the two superstars together.

In a press conference Saturday afternoon, Marks said it was time for new leadership.

"Kenny grinded and did everything he could, and it was time for another voice in that locker room, and it's our job now to find him," the Nets general manager said. 

"We're trying to take this program from where we are now to another level, and I think we have both agreed, along with ownership, that a change was necessary at this time to do that."

Marks said the players had no role in the decision. 

"This was a matter where it was really just between Kenny and myself, and we brought in ownership when we needed to, and we arose at this decision," he said. "So this was purely amicable and mutually agreed upon between those parties."

Marks informed the players by text message Saturday morning and then discussed the decision with them at the team's training facility. Players who had been with the team in previous seasons didn't sense that Atkinson wasn't getting through anymore but also acknowledged that things have changed in Brooklyn this season.

"I think you go across this league and you talk to every coach and every player," Harris said, "and dealing with a young, up-and-coming team is much different than coaching superstar players, and everybody kind of realizes that it's a much different dynamic. And I wouldn't say that's the reason why we're in this position right now, but it is different."

Holdover Caris LeVert was, too, asked if he got the sense that Atkinson wasn't reaching this group the same way.

"I never really did, but you know we had a lot of new guys this year so you never really know how that goes," he said. "But I know with me, our relationship was extremely strong."

Marks added that the timing of the move will give Atkinson an opportunity to find another head coaching opportunity next season while allowing the Nets front office to evaluate Vaughn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.