Before the suspension of the NBA season, perhaps the biggest news around the league was the “departure” of Brooklyn Nets’ head coach Kenny Atkinson.
Atkinson led the Nets to the playoffs last season after the team had missed the previous three. He took over the Nets in 2016 when the team didn’t have quality draft picks and very little talent on board. Atkinson developed journeymen Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie to reliable players and plucked the likes of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen from the draft to form a winning culture in Brooklyn.
Despite getting eliminated early in the playoffs, the Nets were the biggest winners during the offseason when they signed two blue-chip free agents in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Although Durant was expected to miss the 2019-20 season due to injury, the Nets were expected to be contenders next season when they get their two superstars to play alongside the team Atkinson developed. Despite Durant’s absence and Irving getting in and out of action due to his injury woes, the Nets were the 7th seed in the East when the NBA suspended its operations.
But instead of Atkinson likely leading the team to its second consecutive playoff appearance, it was announced by GM Sean Marks last weekend that the team had decided to “part ways” with Atkinson. According to Marks:
“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.”
There were plenty of speculations around Atkinson’s ouster and one of the most prominent ones was that the Nets’ two superstars orchestrated Atkinson’s departure. De’Andre Jordan was quick to deny those rumors but one can’t help but wonder why the Nets would change voices in the middle of the season where they are going to the playoffs despite playing without Durant. Sure, the Nets underperformed this season but it wasn’t that bad to cause a change in direction while the season was still underway. But that’s another story. Our task here is to determine who will replace Atkinson as head coach in Brooklyn and according to SportsBetting as of 03/15/20, these are the names who are on top of the odds board:
|Tyronn Lue||+125||Mark Jackson||+200|
|Jeff Van Gundy||+500||Jacque Vaughn||+600|
|Tom Thibodeau||+700||Jason Kidd||+900|
Who Are the Favorites?
Tyronn Lue was among the early favorites to land the head coaching job in Hollywood before the Lakers gave it to Frank Vogel. Lue coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to their only NBA title in 2016 and included in that team is Nets’ current star Kyrie Irving. Lue is considered as Irving’s “favorite” and with the Nets committing to making Irving one of their two franchise stars last summer, then there is a big possibility that Lue will get the nod. Lue has the experience in going to the Finals, winning the title and he was able to keep together a Cavs team that had Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love. That is going to be key in Brooklyn with Irving, Durant, and Dinwiddie.
Mark Jackson also ticks several boxes. Jackson is from Brooklyn, went to St. John’s and played for the New York Knicks. His coaching resume is also impressive at 121-109 with the Golden State Warriors. He made the playoffs two times in three years and had he not been ousted, he would’ve been the owner of Steve Kerr’s three NBA championship rings. Jackson built the team that Kerr led to the title three times. He created the Splash Brothers and turned the Warriors to a championship-caliber team. He also has a good relationship with Rich Kleiman, Durant’s business partner, and manager. So you have to like Mark Jackson as well.
Jeff Van Gundy was a former head coach for the Knicks and his name almost always appears whenever there is a head coaching vacancy. But Van Gundy hasn’t coached in a long time and he’s making good money as a TV analyst. Getting back in the sidelines and taking a high-pressure job like coaching KD and Irving might be too stressful for him right now. He didn’t take any of the other previous coaching jobs he was linked too. I don’t think he’ll take this now if it’s offered to him.
Jacque Vaughn is the current interim coach and while you think he will get a preference when the discussions come, I don’t think he has the experience to immediately make the Nets a contender. My pick here is down to two and it’s Ty Lue or Mark Jackson. Between the two, it’s Lue who makes more sense because he’s coached more recently and I think that Irving is more demanding than KD so I think the Nets will weigh in more on Kyrie’s preferred coach. Anyway, they can always give him the pink slip like Atkinson if it doesn’t start well and give the keys to Jackson anyway. But yeah, I think the Nets go with Lue first, then Jackson, if something goes, doesn’t go right.
Prediction: Tyronn Lue
Will Kenny Atkinson be Knicks Coach?
- Yes +150
- No -200
As far as Atkinson is concerned, I don’t think it’s the end of the line for him. That line may lead to the other end of New York with the Knicks. The Knicks fired David Fizdale earlier this season and have gone with interim coach Mike Miller. The Knicks have played better with Miller but at this point, it’s not just about getting wins for the Knicks. This franchise has been losing for so long now and with the team’s recent run-in with Spike Lee, the Knicks need a savior right now or else they will likely face doomsday.
For me, Atkinson fits the bill. He didn’t just rebuild Brooklyn, he rebranded the team and established a winning culture that will be there for a long time. The Knicks need both and they need both right away.
With Atkinson’s availability, I think GM Leon Rose has been spared of trying to look for his team’s next bench tactician. I’m sure the Knicks have plenty of names in mind already and Miller is one of them. But who would’ve expected for a coach like Atkinson to be available even before the season is over?
Atkinson is familiar with the Knicks because he served as an assistant to Mike D’Antonio for four seasons during the latter’s tenure with the team. He has a 118-190 record as head coach but doesn’t forget that he started from scratch and not only did he turn Dinwiddie, LeVert, Harris, and Jarrett to serviceable players, he developed their star potential. We know that the Knicks have plenty of talent on board. It’s just a matter of tapping to them and I think Atkinson can do that.
Mike Miller will be a front-runner and Tom Thibodeau also checks several boxes so he should be considered as well. But when it comes to Kenny Atkinson, I can see a young head coach whose fast-paced style fits the current game in the NBA. I won’t bet the entire farm on it but I will take my chance on the YES here.
Prediction: Yes +150