Nets-Kenny Atkinson fallout: Kevin Durant’s concerns, DeAndre Jordan’s starting spot among details to emerge


When news broke Saturday morning that the Nets had, seemingly out of nowhere, fired coach Kenny Atkinson, the same question popped into everyone’s head: Why? As these things tend to go, it was a good bet that the details of the separation, and what may have ultimately caused it, would slowly leak out in the aftermath. 

Welcome to the aftermath. 

As reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, a growing storm of factors came to a head in a postgame, team-and-staff-wide, airing of grievances following Brooklyn’s 39-point loss to the Grizzlies last Wednesday, all of which set the table for Atkinson’s departure three days later. From Charania:

The Nets held a spirited team meeting, according to sources, starting with several veterans expressing that they wanted to see Spencer Dinwiddie play like the player they know, and later with people in the room calling out Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan. Then perhaps the most critical thing of all happened: Sources say Durant chimed in, pointing out that the Nets must improve their habits and that they were not building the proper culture traits necessary for a title contender.

Durant’s role is obviously interesting given his superstar status and his championship pedigree. Playing with the Warriors for three seasons, he got a firsthand look at the way elite organizations operate behind the scenes. Durant came to the Nets because he wanted to play alongside Irving, and the two of them wanted their good friend DeAndre Jordan to be part of the deal as well, but playing for Atkinson does appear to have been part of the equation. More from Charania:

Durant and Irving never connected with Atkinson and there was a growing belief that they did not have interest in playing for him when this team is whole again next season, sources told The Athletic.

… During Wednesday’s spirited postgame meeting, the players did not shy away from critiquing Atkinson, expressing to the coach that they wanted him to identify roles better, communicate the team’s hierarchy better, change what needs fixing and not settle for the status quo. It summed up the growing displeasure with Atkinson’s communication levels, as well.

There’s more. In summation, Jordan says he was led to believe he would be the Nets starting center but instead has come off the bench most of the year, with Jarrett Allen getting the starts. In interim coach Jacque Vaughn’s first game since Atkinson’s firing, Jordan was inserted into the starting lineup. 

Atkinson’s “equal opportunity” offense is also said to have been an issue with the team’s “most critical” players. In other words, Durant and Irving, both of whom play an elite brand of one-on-one basketball. Irving, for his part, found it difficult to operate with balance inside Boston’s more egalitarian offense, as well. He’s experienced the most success of his career with a clear hierarchy, like LeBron James and Irving were the clear go-to players in Cleveland, a defined 1-2 punch that led to a championship in 2016. 

You can understand the desire to create that same superstar duo with Durant, but Atkinson was equally strong in his own offensive beliefs. What’s interesting is Durant is coming from Golden State, which won three championships, two with Durant, by prioritizing passing, movement and pace over individual offense. The Nets, in general, employed those same principles under Atkinson. 

Underneath, there were always rumors that Durant didn’t necessarily prefer the Warriors’ style of play, but rather acquiesced to it as the newcomer on an already proven title team. The Warriors did start to rely more and more on Durant playing one-on-one as the partnership aged. It was a constant source of debate during the playoffs. As the best player on the floor, which Durant almost always is, there’s a tendency to want the ball, and ultimately your fate, in your own hands. Durant and Irving are cut from the same cloth in that way. 

We’ll see who the Nets ultimately hire, but whomever it is, you can bet it will be someone on whom both Durant and Irving sign off. Next season will officially begin a new era in Brooklyn, and perhaps it was always in the cards for a new coach to usher that era in. It didn’t feel that way given the success Atkinson had enjoyed in building the Nets into a team Durant and Irving would want to join in the first place, but now that we know more about what was going on behind closed doors, it makes a lot more sense. 





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