Report: Kenny Atkinson Didn't Want to Coach Nets' Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2020

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) and head coach Kenny Atkinson, left, stand on the court in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Kenny Atkinson was looking for an exit and received his wish when he and the Brooklyn Nets agreed to part ways Saturday.

According to Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill, Atkinson struggled to mesh with the team's two biggest offseason acquisitions, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Goodwill's sources said the coach "wasn't fond of coaching Durant and Irving based on what he saw this season and would rather something happen now than at the end of the season."

SNY's Ian Begley and Corey Hersch provided a similar account. They didn't specifically name Irving but reported "some Nets players felt that Atkinson had lost a portion of the locker room recently."

While the timing of Atkinson's departure was unexpected, he always looked like a tricky match with stars of Irving and Durant's caliber.

During his first three seasons, Atkinson built a more regimented culture with the goal of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. In an interview with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, he laid out the inevitable difficulties that would come with bringing two marquee free agents into the fold:

"Our whole setup can be a bit rigid. We're like a college program, in some ways. We have this car wash of very specific things with very specific people.

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"But I can already see it morphing into something it was not before. When Joe Harris was trying to make it in the league, he was saying, 'I'll do whatever you want.' Now we're dealing with veterans who are saying, 'OK, this is how you do it. But this is how I've always done it, and this has worked for me.'"

The Nets are 28-34 and seventh in the Eastern Conference, which is somewhat disappointing for a team that won 42 games a year ago. But Irving only appeared in 20 games while battling shoulder problems that required season-ending surgery, and Durant is still recovering from his ruptured Achilles.

More so than for the team's performance, Atkinson is gone because he simply wasn't a good fit anymore.

Jacque Vaughn is taking over on an interim basis, which allows Brooklyn to tread water and have a full offseason to identify a new coach.

According to Goodwill, Irving "currently prefers" Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue.

Lue is no stranger to superstar-laden teams, having coached Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers were NBA champions in 2016, with Lue helping right the ship after David Blatt was fired in the middle of the season.