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How Kenny Atkinson trusted Irving “But Kyrie goes behind his back and gets him fired”


It's the hypocrisy of modern NBA players. For instance, when a player gets traded, for instance, Isaiah Tomas from Boston to Cleveland, they post long a soliloquy about how there's no loyalty and that they are victims because GM's and team owners treat them as assets. But when a coach with a good record gets fired, they don't call out their fellow superstars that did nothing to help that coach.

Kenny Atkinson is an example of that hypocrisy. He coached the Nets through the bad times, established a winning culture on a losing team, and coached up players like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarret Allen. Seeing how the Timberwolves have been doing lately, adding DeAngelo Russell and going to the Playoffs only makes the case for Kenny Atkinson as a great NBA coach even stronger. Hell, here's how Kevin Durant explained his decision to join the Nets.

“I was doing a lot of YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson. I really liked his approach to his craft as a coach. That's what drew me in pretty quickly.”

Still, Atkinson got fired. All reports explained it's not like KD and Kyrie barged into Sean Marks's office and said, "It's him or us." The point is - they didn't have to. Teams are so sensitive to any signal of superstar displeasure that a lot less was enough for Atkinson to lose his job. Kyrie stopped feeling him, and that was that. 

“I just remember not being able to talk to the management, talk to the coaches, talk to anyone without them being kind of scared of these guys [KD and Kyrie].. Including Kenny Atkinson, who built this whole program up. He’s kinda saying ‘Let’s leave KD, the Maserati, in the case, and let Kyrie be Kyrie.’ But Kyrie goes behind his back and gets him fired.”

Matt Sulivan, LeBatard and friends

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That's how Matt Sulivan, the author of a new book on the KD-Kyrie Nets, described the atmosphere in Brooklyn and Kenny Atkinson losing his job. I don't remember LeBron tweeting about the betrayal from his two superstars, do you? There was no obvious reason for Atkinson to get fired except the fact Kyrie had different ideas. Why is that OK, and trading a player under contract isn't? I'd say KD saying he came to the Nets partly because of Atkinson's "approach to his craft as a coach" is comparable to Blake Griffin getting the fake banner ceremony in LA, only to be shipped off to Detroit soon after. 

Players want empowerment, and they have it. But with power comes responsibility. The same criticism and expectations they had for the previous key decision-makers, GM's, and owners, they should expect to face. In this entire episode, the only silver lining is the fact Atkinson realized what life with Kyrie and KD would be like and seemingly didn't lose a lot of sleep for losing the Nets gig. 

“Goodwill also reported, citing multiple sources, that Atkinson was as anxious to get away from coaching Irving and Durant as they were to get away from playing for him. Think about that. This is a guy who built this Nets team from nothing, who turned Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert and Joe Harris into multi-million-dollar assets. And now, after landing two stars everyone was chasing this summer, just as the fruits of his labor are about to pay off with a championship-level team next season, he suddenly wants no part of coaching that team? What coach hits the free agent lottery and doesn't want to cash the ticket?”

Brad Botkin, CBS

To remind you, Atkinson was there when Kyrie had his "I'm the coach" monologue on KD's podcast. He saw it coming. We now know the job involves Kyrie taking unplanned vacations without explanation and everything else Kevin Durant and James Harden bring to the table. People seem to think this is the future of the NBA - stars deciding where they'll play and running the show. 

If that's the case, I don't like where the NBA is going. And more importantly - I'm not sure that will lead to rings. Yes, there may be a lot of talent on one team, but there will be a lot of ego and opinions. That never turns out well. 

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