Back in July, the Brooklyn Nets pulled a highway robbery at the start of free agency. They were able to pull arguably the best two free agents in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Looking at what the Nets were able to do last year and still make the playoffs, adding these two superstars seemed like a dream. A franchise that was the laughingstock of the league 3 years ago now is a feared powerhouse.
Now fast forward to March.
The Nets are the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference without Kyrie in the lineup anymore and just coming off a 139-120 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Kenny Atkinson and Nets General Manager Sean Marks had agreed to part ways. A move coming out of nowhere and left a lot of uncertainty within the organization.
If one thing is certain though, the Brooklyn Nets will soon come to realize how good they had it with Kenny Atkinson leading the team.
Looking back on just how bad Brooklyn was just a few years ago, Kenny Atkinson seemed to be the man who was able to turn things around for the franchise. He took over in 2016 with virtually no stars in the lineup besides a veteran Brook Lopez. This team had absolutely no future after throwing it all away in the infamous 2013 deal with the Boston Celtics that traded their first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The Celtics were also able to swap picks with the Nets in 2017 as well. Brooklyn had a special place in the cellar, and made great friends with the New York Knicks as well.
Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks made some deep moves within the franchise and started to take some necessary risks. They needed a potential superstar, and they found it in D’angelo Russell, a castaway in the Lakers Organization. They traded Brook Lopez and their 27th overall pick to the Lakers for Russell and Timofey Mosgov. The Nets became willing to take on big contracts for younger stars. Under Atkinsons’ control, he pulled together other younger players and formed a respectful team. 2018 became the year it all started to come together.
If we even take a look at this year, the Nets obviously did not have the championship aspirations yet with Kevin Durant still out with an Achilles injury. A Kyrie Irvin- led Nets team would still have them in the playoff picture. After Irving missed essentially most of the season due to injuries, the Nets were still able to keep up in the playoff race with Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert emerging as the backbone of the team until Irving and Durant can come back. Kenny Atkinson was able to utilize everyone on his roster and each player had a role in making this team successful.
We won’t know how the Nets would have finished with the season being shut down indefinitely due to Covid-19, but they were the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Considering the obstacles they had to go through with Kyrie’s injury and the new added pressure this team received, this is a rather impressive feat.
Kenny Atkinson was there through the worst with the Nets. Brooklyn experienced new life with risks that paid off greatly under his control. The Nets seem to be catering to their bigger stars and letting go of Atkinson because they were not a fan of him. According to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, The decision to fire Atkinson was driven by the players. That seems to be a very insensitive thing to do to a man that created an atmosphere that was attractive to big name free agents to even go there in the first place.
Atkinson will have no problem finding a new job and will turn that franchise around in no time. The Nets are going to see very soon, there was only one Kenny Atkinson.