It's no surprise considering all that's happened since early March, but the shock of Kenny Atkinson's out-of-nowhere resignation has faded rather considerably. He took over the worst roster in the NBA and turned a bunch of castoffs and mid-round picks into a playoff team with nothing more than quality coaching and GM Sean Marks' eye for underutilized talent. Once Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant agreed to sign in Brooklyn, the hard part was supposed to be over.
We still don't really know why Atkinson decided to step down after only five months of coaching Irving and, to an extent, Durant, who spent this year rehabbing from a torn Achilles. Reports from the NY Post suggest the players, and especially Irving, weren't listening to Atkinson, which would line up with Atkinson telling Marks that his voice didn't hold the same sway in the locker room it once did. It feels unlikely that Durant and Irving went to Marks or owner Joe Tsai and demanded Atkinson be let go, but Atkinson wouldn't have left in the manner he did if he had their seal of approval.
So the first box on the Nets' head coach search will be to find a coach that their two superstars want to be coached by. Shams Charania reported on the early stages of that search this morning for The Athletic and listed the usual suspects, along with a note that interim coach Jacques Vaughn was a "significant" candidate to retain the gig after the job he's done in Orlando with basically the Nets' G League team. Via Shams:
Several external candidates have emerged for the job, according to league sources: Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and former Rockets and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Ime Udoka has been a common name in head coaching searches over the last few years as an up-and-coming assistant, but given where the Nets are as a team right now, he seems unlikely. Jeff Van Gundy is always a strong contender, and Jason Kidd would make for a fun reunion after clashes with management ended his first tenure as Brooklyn's head coach. But Tyronn Lue seems like the inevitable choice.
Lue has a reputation as a player's coach after his stint in Cleveland, so he'd likely get along with Irving and Durant, at least. He's familiar with the former after coaching him for a few years as a Cavalier, and knows the latter after facing off with him for three straight years in the NBA Finals. If Irving gives the sign-off, Lue will be given serious consideration.
It just feels like a natural marriage. Lue doesn't appear to be a great X's and O's coach like Atkinson but did spend a year under Doc Rivers this season. His job with the Cavs was his first-ever head coaching experience after less than two years on the bench as an assistant. Theoretically, there's plenty of room for him to grow. Even if he hasn't improved as a coach, Irving and Durant are so good that just getting out of the way and letting them play is a pretty solid strategy. It worked when the Cavs won a title under Lue a few years ago.
This early in the Irving/Durant era of Brooklyn basketball, the most important thing is to keep them happy. Giving them a coach they get along with, even if he's not the best candidate basketball-wise, is the priority. From what we've seen, Lue can do that. He's used to superstar management and has a history with Irving. He probably won't give them the coaching edge they need against the brightest minds in the game, but when your team is led by one of the best point guards in the game and an all-time great scorer, that doesn't matter nearly as much.