Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks repeatedly said Saturday afternoon that the decision to part ways with coach Kenny Atkinson a few hours earlier had come after multiple conversations between the two of them over the direction of the team, and over Atkinson’s ability to influence it.
“I would have loved Kenny to be here long term,” Marks said during a news conference at the team’s Brooklyn practice facility. “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.”
That voice won’t be Atkinson’s, who leaves with a record of 118-190. His last game was a 139-120 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night. The Nets (28-34) are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
In 2016, Atkinson took over a team with a deficit of draft picks and little present-day talent, and he helped to develop a roster with players like Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie from the waiver wire and young talent like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen from the first round of the draft. Atkinson led the Nets to a playoff berth last season, ending a three-year drought for the franchise.
The culture the Nets created, and the winning the team did without star talent last season, were credited as factors when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving came to Brooklyn last summer as free agents. Their acquisitions took the Nets from a plucky feel-good story to a team with potential championship aspirations when Durant returns from his rehab for a torn Achilles tendon next season.
But Atkinson will never get a chance to coach Durant, and he only coached Irving for 20 games before the All-Star point guard underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.
On Saturday, Marks repeatedly was asked what led to the Atkinson decision, and — without getting into specifics — said he and the coach agreed that a different direction was needed, despite Atkinson never getting the chance to coach the stars the team brought in last summer.
“I can’t comment on whether he could’ve or would’ve or should’ve [gotten the chance to coach them],” Marks said. “I would’ve loved to see him coach those guys. There’s no question of that.
“But the situation and circumstances of where we are today is we’re trying to take this program from where we are now to another level, and we’ve agreed, along with ownership, that a change was necessary at this time to do that.”
When Marks was asked for specific reasons why a change needed to be made, he declined to offer them.
“I think what happens in the locker room, I would like to think, stays in there,” Marks said. “I would like to get specific and granular on all different types of things. But, at the end of the day, this is a compromise that both Kenny and I and ownership came up with. I think I said before, it was time. Kenny grinded and did everything he could. But it was time for another voice in that locker room, and it’s our job now to find it.”