The Nets love to talk about their vaunted culture. But fired Knicks coach David Fizdale said if that culture was so strong, it should’ve been able to survive Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and Kenny Atkinson wouldn’t have joined him in the ranks of the unemployed.
The Nets parted ways with Atkinson on March 7 after his voice stopped carrying weight in the locker room, which begs questions about the dual-edged sword of player empowerment.
“When it comes to players with power, a lot of it has to do with your front office has to really be strong and your culture has to be strong to weather disgruntled players,” Fizdale told ESPN Radio. “And you have to have a certain amount of support for their coach so when things get turbulent…I’ll give you a perfect example: It wasn’t always perfect in Miami between (Erik Spoelstra) and LeBron (James).
“But one thing we knew for sure: Spo wasn’t going anywhere, because he had the support of Pat (Riley), Andy Elisburg and the (Micky) Arison family, from the standpoint of ‘This is our culture, this is how we do things, and everyone has to adjust to that.’ That’s the thing I respect so much about those teams like San Antonio and Miami, they make the players adapt to their culture. They don’t go the other way.”
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The perception is that Irving had tuned Atkinson out, and Durant was — at best — ambivalent to the move. So after Irving’s ugly exit from Boston, Fizdale was asked if the mercurial guard is a coach-killer.
“I don’t really have an opinion one way or another. But you can’t deny the fact he won a championship in Cleveland and did enough to help a team get all the way to the end, and was a huge part of it. And the last two places it just didn’t work out,” said Fizdale.
“And I wasn’t in the building to know exactly what was going on. But it can be one of two things: He was either that guy who doesn’t adapt and kills culture, or he’s a Jimmy Butler who needs to find a right fit.”
It remains to been if Brooklyn is that glove-like fit, or a square peg in a round hole.
Fizdale said he’s spoken with Atkinson and was confident he’d be coaching again as soon as possible. But he did call it a “punch in the gut” to see a coach who was doing so well get removed.
“It’s a kick in the stomach to hear that,” Fizdale admitted. “And more so than my situation. I was 4-18; I can take it, I’m a big boy. Your record is a big deal a lot of times in the league. But I think to see Kenny under the circumstances, they were seventh seed in the East, he’d 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 from the standpoint of you don’t have D’Angelo Russell now, Kyrie 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.”
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