After signing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant during free agency this summer, the Brooklyn Nets laid out a plan to be title contenders for the future. That plan centered around those two players, the depth of Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie and coach Kenny Atkinson leading the way. However, in a surprising move, the Nets announced that they have parted ways with their head coach on Saturday morning.
The move comes hours after the team defeated the Spurs, 139-120, at Barclays Center on Friday. Assistant coach Jacque Vaughn will now serve as the interim head coach as a result of Atkinson stepping down. Marks addressed the decision during a press conference at the team's facility.
"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."
Atkinson was in his fourth season as head coach for the Nets, and during that time he made the playoffs just once in 2019. This season has been somewhat disappointing for the Nets as Durant was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in last year's NBA Finals, and Irving now recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this week.
However, the team was in a holding pattern in the first season with K.D. and Irving until the two were fully healthy, so it was difficult to make any evaluation on this season alone. Still, the Nets are 28-34 and they sit in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, clearly not below expectations when the season began.
Durant and Irving have been publicly vocal about their support of Atkinson in the past, with both players saying on separate occasions that he factored into their decision in picking Brooklyn during free agency last summer. It's interesting to consider if either player had any input on this decision. Marks had many conversations with Atkinson, and both sides felt that his time as head coach of this team had run its course.
Aside from the injuries to K.D. and Irving, LeVert also missed 24 games this season due to a thumb injury, yet the Nets have still managed to stay in the playoff race. In the last month alone, they've picked up huge wins against the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers, showing that they can still compete with some of the top teams in the East.
When Atkinson inherited this team four years ago, it was a franchise that had traded away most of its draft capital and had little positive outlook for the future. While the front office made the moves to put this team back on the right track, Atkinson developed the young talent on the roster and coached this team to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Atkinson is expected to be in high demand on the coaching market come this offseason, according to Wojnarowski.
Vaughn is expected to serve as the interim for the remainder of the season before the Nets start a coaching search this summer ahead of a highly-anticipated 2020-21 campaign with the return of Durant and Irving on the horizon.