The Brooklyn Nets surprised everyone by dismissing their head coach since 2016, Kenny Atkinson. They waited until the wee early morning hours of last Saturday to issue a press release stating he’d been relieved of his duties and that he’d be replaced on an interim basis by former Nets guard and one-time Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn.
Normally when a coach is fired you hear an advance drumbeat coming from fans calling sports talk radio outlets or rumblings from NBA writers in the local dailies. If anything, fans and media were up in arms based on what I heard and read over the weekend.
Atkinson never had much NBA talent to work with but was adept at developing guys who were a step away from the G-League, such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, and mold them into leaders of a team that made it into the NBA playoffs against all odds last season.
So why did the Nets fire Atkinson?
Yes, the team has blown a number of big leads in the fourth quarter this season but that is going to happen when your squad lacks a single All-Star.
Nets forward Caris LeVert, one of the team’s better players, may have hit the nail on the head when he told the press on Saturday that perhaps some of the new guys didn’t like Atkinson. The unnamed players had to have been the team’s big 2019 free agent acquisitions, forward Kevin Durant and guard Kyrie Irving. Durant hasn’t played a minute this year as he is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury incurred during the 2019 NBA Finals, while Irving is out for the rest of this season recuperating from a shoulder injury. He only played 20 games as a Net.
It’s highly doubtful Atkinson will stay unemployed for long. The Knicks will undoubtedly be shopping for a new head coach when their season ends. Atkinson is represented by the talent agency CAA, where new Knicks president Leon Rose was a top executive.
Atkinson and Rose certainly know each other well and that’s a key factor in the relationship business the NBA has become. Also working in Atkinson’s favor is the Knicks have a young team and Atkinson has a well-deserved reputation for getting the most out of NBA players who have three years or less of professional service.
Another plus is he can handle the pressure of playing in New York. Atkinson grew up in Huntington Station, LI, so he wasn’t cowed at the notion of being an NBA coach in the Big Apple. He is well-liked by nearly everyone who has met him except, perhaps, by a pair of NBA superstars.
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It was a big night for Queens last Friday when the Knicks played host to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Each team featured a former Queens high school hoops star. Moe Harkless, who attended Forest Hills High School and joined the Knicks last month as the result of a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, greeted Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo, who played at John Bowne.
Harkless told me he is staying in Manhattan but has returned to see friends and family in Queens on off-days.
He started taking summer courses at St. John’s University a few years ago for his undergrad business administration degree but admitted it has been a few years since he has taken one. I reminded him that when he left St. John’s after his freshman year to become eligible for the NBA Draft he promised his mother, Rosa (who is now living in Orlando), that he would return to Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike and get his degree.
Harkless has grown a beard and mustache in the past year. He laughed when I told him that his former Forest Hills High School classmates wouldn’t recognize him.
Diallo is in his second year playing for the Thunder. I asked him if it had been a tough adjustment to be living in far slower-paced Oklahoma City. He conceded that Main Street in Oklahoma City doesn’t have as many great restaurants as Main Street, Flushing, does but overall he likes the place. The major drawback is that he and his teammates are always recognized there. “I can travel on the subway in Queens and very few people will know who I am,” he told me. It’s a key reason why he still makes his off-season home in Queens.
It was only fitting that Knicks sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow chose Friday night to interview Knicks assistant coach and Cardozo High School alum Royal Ivey.
Diallo played better than Harkless, and to no one’s surprise, the Thunder played way better than the Knicks as they won by 23 points.
I was saddened to learn of the passing on Friday of former WCBS-AM sports director Ed Ingles.
Ed was never what anyone could consider to be a “homer” because he respected the intelligence of listeners too much to be that kind of shill broadcaster. He could also be critical of sports figures without ever being bombastic.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when he told me how much he enjoyed reading my weekly column.
He will be missed.
Life and style
Chris Matthews was adept at treating politics as a sport, something that he learned growing up in the political wards of northeast Philadelphia, and that is one of the reasons he titled his long-running MSNBC 7 p.m. nightly show, “Hardball.” He also remains a big fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, an endeavor that often requires both humor and patience.
As happens in baseball, Matthews did commit his share of errors and wild pitches, especially in recent years, but he was always entertaining.
Matthews, as nearly everyone knows, announced his retirement last Monday because of pressure coming from MSNBC executives after political writer Laura Bassett complained about inappropriate remarks he made to her three years ago.
While I understand why MSNBC executives did what they felt they had to do, it will be difficult for them to replace a charismatic figure like Matthews.
“Saturday Night Live” paid tribute to Matthews by having Darrell Hammond revive his spot-on impression of him in the cold open this past weekend.