Ex-Knicks HC David Fizdale: Nets Firing Kenny Atkinson Was 'A Punch to the Gut'

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIMarch 25, 2020

New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The New York Knicks relieved David Fizdale of his head coaching duties Dec. 6, and the Brooklyn Nets made New York City boroughs 0-of-2 on 2019-20 head coaches by firing Kenny Atkinson earlier this month.

Fizdale appeared to be more upset about Atkinson's firing than his own in an interview with Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News published Wednesday:

"It's a punch to the gut to see a colleague like that who went through the mud with the organization and really started with the foundation and really helped build the team to where it is. It [was] a kick in the stomach to hear that. Even more than my situation. I was 4-18. I can take it. I'm a big boy.

"But I think to see Kenny under the circumstances, they were seventh seed in the East, he had taken that team from a lot of Ls to now a team that was starting to become a regular in the playoffs. You look at that roster and you don't have D'Angelo Russell now, Kyrie [Irving] misses 40-plus games, no Kevin Durant, and you're still in the seventh seed, which I thought was awesome and amazing that he was doing that. And he was building another All-Star point guard in [Spencer] Dinwiddie. And to see that happen so abruptly, when it happened, the way it happened, it was a kick in the stomach."

Atkinson had served as the Nets' head coach since 2016. He went 118-190 overall but led Brooklyn to the playoffs last season at 42-40—the franchise's first postseason trip since the 2014-15 campaign and its first winning record since 2013-14.

The Nets were 30-34 when the NBA announced the season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.    

This season was more or less expected to be a lost year for Brooklyn because Durant, who left the Golden State Warriors to sign with the Nets in free agency last summer, is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered during Game 5 the 2019 NBA Finals.

That sentiment was solidified when Irving underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in early March.

Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported after Atkinson's firing that Irving had "soured" on the head coach early in the season, but Nets veteran center DeAndre Jordan called that notion "bulls--t."

Fizdale told Bondy he believes Atkinson is "going to be right back in the saddle" elsewhere in the NBA.

Regardless of whom the Nets hire as their next head coach, the pressure will be enormous to contend for the 2021 title with Durant and Irving fully healthy.

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