San Antonio Spurs: Kenny Atkinson would make great replacement if Popovich retires

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 31: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs,L, meets with Kenny Atkinson of the Brooklyn Nets before the start of their game at AT&T Center on January 31, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 31: Gregg Popovich head coach of the San Antonio Spurs,L, meets with Kenny Atkinson of the Brooklyn Nets before the start of their game at AT&T Center on January 31, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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If San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich calls it quits after this season, former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson would be an excellent fill-in.

In a move that shocked the NBA world following their clobbering of the San Antonio Spurs, the Brooklyn Nets and head coach Kenny Atkinson parted ways today. Atkinson was signed to lead the Nets’ rebuild in April 2016 and led Brooklyn to a marked improvement in three consecutive seasons prior to this one.

After signing both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the 2019 offseason, the Nets were projected to take another leap this year despite the latter rehabilitating from a torn Achilles suffered in the NBA Finals. Things didn’t get off to a great start this season with Irving’s arrival causing a disruption to the chemistry Atkinson established with his players in a 42-win season last year.

This Nets team suddenly became vastly different with a new star to run through and a roster adjusted to a new timeline with Irving and Durant in the picture. Even so, the Nets are on pace for the seventh seed with a 28-34 record thus far in the season, making the mutual decision for Atkinson to part ways with the team a confusing one.

The Nets are parting ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson.

— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 7, 2020

Brooklyn built something special from the ground up and established a winning culture with Atkinson at the helm. This is one that he derived from his time on the bench in Atlanta with former Spurs coach Mike Budenholzer.  Atkinson joined forces with a like-minded accomplice in general manager Sean Marks, who won a championship with the Spurs as a player in 2005 and again as an assistant coach in 2014. See any commonalities between the roots dug in Brooklyn and those in San Antonio?

Meanwhile, this year’s Spurs are a discernably lost cause clawing at a playoff spot while hanging on to a loose thread attached to their past success. The only players remaining from their last championship are veteran point guard Patty Mills in a career-year and wing Marco Belinelli on his last legs. San Antonio is on the heels of its own rebuild and could use someone with Atkinson’s track record to steer the ship.

At 71 years old, head coach Gregg Popovich has a legitimate chance of retiring this year. He’s going to be the coach of USA basketball in the 2020 Olympics, which would make for a great time to hang up the clipboard and retire to his family and an extensive collection of vintage wine. There has never been a time in which Pop’s retirement would make so much sense because the Spurs aren’t a playoff team anymore.

Somebody has to explain why a GREAT Coach like Kenny Atkinson gets fired?

— DeMarre Carroll (@DeMarreCarroll1) March 7, 2020

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Atkinson knows how to establish a culture, has done dividends for player development and genuinely cares about the men he coaches. The online reaction to his firing has varied from shock, blame and outrage due to his excellent record of reconstructing the meaning of Nets basketball.

Not only does Atkinson have experience working with up-and-coming teams, but he’s adaptable and already has lots of connections with San Antonio’s organization. He began as Director of Player Development for the Houston Rockets from 2007-08 before becoming an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York. He moved on from one noteworthy coach to another, learning under Coach Bud during the 60-win season in Atlanta.

When it comes to blending veterans with young talent, Atkinson is one of the most intriguing coaches to consider.

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If Pop moves on from his pro career and current Spurs assistant Becky Hammon doesn’t get the nod, it should be someone like Atkinson.

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