The announcement coach Kenny Atkinson and the Nets had agreed to part ways came as a shock to the team, at least to those who spoke Saturday afternoon, after the news was made official.
Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and interim head coach Jacque Vaughn each said there was no indication from above that Atkinson wasn’t going to finish out his fourth season with the organization, especially after he and the rest of the coaching staff signed contract extensions in April 2019.
General manager Sean Marks informed the team via a group text message early Saturday morning before holding a 30-minute “roundtable” at the Nets’ training center in Brooklyn.
“You’re definitely shocked, surprised,” said Harris, who signed with the Nets in 2016, the same year in which Atkinson took over for Tony Brown (who was interim coach after the firing of Lionel Hollins). “I think for the guys that have been here for the last few years with him, you’re upset. You learned a lot. But there’s also, it’s one of those things where you’re just grateful for the time, the opportunity we had with him.
“We all loved playing for Kenny, grew a lot as players and as people. A valuable experience. But it’s one of those things where, the NBA, at the end of the day, it is a business. And stuff like this happens with teammates, coaches, and it’s tough. It’s tough to see, but is it the nature of the NBA itself.”
With little information from Marks as to why Atkinson was relieved of his coaching duties — except for the assertion that Atkinson’s voice “wasn’t carrying the same weight in the locker room” — it didn’t seem as if the players who spoke believed that to be true.
“I never really [sensed that],” said LeVert, who also joined the Nets in 2016. “But you know we had a lot of new guys this year. So you never really know how that goes. But I know that with me, our relationship was extremely strong. He coached me exactly how I asked him to, be extremely honest with me whether I’m good, bad or just OK, and he did that. And I’m forever grateful to him for that.”
When asked if he felt like Atkinson’s dismissal had been based on the team’s recent results (they have lost five of their past seven games, though they won Friday with their highest-scoring game of the season), LeVert said the thought had crossed his mind.
“You know, I’ve honestly had that, those feelings, especially this morning when I found out,” LeVert said. “But it’s a rough business, especially when stuff like this happens.”