Brian Keefe

The Latest On Kenny Atkinson

Kenny Atkinson‘s surprising departure as coach of the Nets on Saturday may have been instigated by his players, but it was a mutual decision, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Sources tell Lewis that Kyrie Irving bears much of the responsibility for the move, but Atkinson has understood for months that a change might be necessary.

“Kenny and I had these pretty frank conversations. And it wasn’t last night, 24 hours; there wasn’t one game,” general manager Sean Marks said. “This was a culmination of events over the course of the year. Kenny’s brutally honest, and the humility he showed to admit ‘My voice is not what it once was here. It’s time.’ This is a compromise that Kenny and I and ownership came up with; it was time. Kenny grinded and did everything he could, but it was time for another voice in that locker room, and it’s our job to find it.”

Marks and owner Joe Tsai gave Atkinson credit for helping to turn around a franchise that was among the league’s worst when he took over in 2016. He has the Nets on track for their second straight playoff appearance, but what the organization wants in a coach apparently shifted after last summer’s free agency bonanza that brought in Irving and Kevin Durant. Neither of them offered comment on Atkinson’s departure, but the players who did insist that they weren’t involved in the decision.

“I absolutely [had] no ‘Fire Kenny’ conversations with Sean, so I don’t know, not a part of that,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “It’s not like I called Joe on the phone and was like, ‘Hey you making any moves?’ I like to think we’re cool, but not that cool.”

Lewis adds that one of the first actions from interim coach Jacque Vaughn was to talk to Irving and other players about what changes they would like to see.

“It’s a service business. I’m serving these guys. I’m just a vessel,” Vaughn said. “It’s today’s game and being able to adjust to that, getting the most out of talent on your roster, but also listening and hearing the voices of the No. 1, 2, 3, 4 guys on your roster. It’s crucial, and having that relationship is a must in today’s game.”

There’s more fallout from this season’s most surprising coaching change:

  • Irving would like to see the Nets hire Tyronn Lue, his former head coach in Cleveland, reports Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Currently an assistant with the Clippers, Lue took the Cavaliers to three straight NBA Finals, including two with Irving as his point guard. Irving didn’t like Atkinson’s “rigid” coaching methods and clashed with him almost immediately, sources tell Goodwill. Multiple sources also say Atkinson didn’t mesh with his two new stars and wasn’t looking forward to coaching them next season when both will presumably be healthy. “Oh, it was definitely mutual,” a league source said.
  • Alex Schiffer of The Athletic talked to sources around the league and compiled a list of candidates to potentially become the Nets’ next head coach. Vaughn’s name is on the list along with some familiar candidates such as Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson and former Nets star Jason Kidd. A few possibilities without head coaching experience are Darvin Ham, Ime Udoka, Brian Keefe and Adam Harrington.
  • Atkinson may be the perfect choice to take over the cross-town Knicks, suggests Greg Joyce of The New York Post. New York is trying to rebuild with a collection of unproven young talent, much like Brooklyn was when Atkinson was hired there, and he is represented by Creative Artists Agency, which was run by new Knicks president Leon Rose“It seems like he’s very well respected within players, within the league — players he coached and players he didn’t coach,” said Knicks forward Julius Randle. “I know I respected him.”

Pacific Notes: Keefe, Farmar, Damian Jones

Brian Keefe, the Lakers‘ new player development coach, has experience with young rosters, having been a member of the Sonics staff beginning the year Kevin Durant was drafted, Joey Ramirez of NBA.com writes in his profile of the coach. Keefe understands there will be growing pains for L.A.’s young roster, but he believes in the end that the team will reap the rewards, Ramirez adds. “We started off a little slow, didn’t have a lot of success right away,” Keefe said of his time with the Sonics/Thunder. “Those guys kind of created an organization, because it was really a new organization when it went to Oklahoma City. They really put an imprint on the whole thing. … Obviously it was an unbelievable experience. We had a lot of success, a lot of deep playoff runs.

Keefe isn’t afraid to call out players if they make errors, including the stars, with Durant telling David Aldridge of NBA.com back in March that he benefited from the coach’s discipline. “That was probably one of the most realest conversations I’ve had with a coach, ever,” Durant said regarding a chat he had with Keefe back in 2014 after the team had lost three straight home games. “He let me know how bad I was — my body language, my attitude. I just decided to look at myself and self-evaluate. And he was right. I had to change how I was thinking, how I was acting toward my teammates. Everything.

Here’s more from out of the Pacific Division:

  • The development of 2016 first round pick, Damian Jones, is crucial for the Warriors given their aging big men and expanding payroll, Anthony Slater of the Mercury News writes. “If you look around the league, big guys are always at a premium,” GM Bob Myers said. “Especially athletic bigs. We sometimes demean them by going small. We’re probably one of the teams that do that. But they’re very necessary.” Jones, who is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered during a pre-draft workout, is expected to miss the entire preseason, which will set him back during his rookie campaign. “Besides the pectoral injury, he’s really healthy as far as knees, ankles, back,” Myers said of Jones. “Which is also another thing that’s hard to find with big guys.”
  • Jordan Farmar, who reportedly reached an agreement with the Kings earlier today, is likely just a short-term addition for Sacramento, Sean Cunningham of ABC 10 opines (Twitter link). The veteran was brought in for depth to start the season while Darren Collison serves whatever suspension the league doles out for his domestic violence incident, Cunningham notes. Collison was found guilty on one count of misdemeanor domestic violence as part of a plea deal to avoid jail time.
  • The crew over at Basketball Insiders weighed in on Lakers‘ chances this season, with the majority of the writers predicting the franchise would finish last in the Pacific Division in 2016/17.

Western Notes: Lakers, Jianlian, Singler

The Lakers have hired Jud Buechler, Brian Keefe and Theo Robertson as player development coaches, BA Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Casey Owens has also been hired as an assistant coach/advance professional scout, while Will Scott has been named a video coordinator to round out Luke Walton’s staff. Brian Shaw, Jesse Mermuys and Mark Madsen had previously been named as assistants by Walton.

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • Veteran coach Del Harris believes Yi Jianlian’s second foray into the NBA will go much more smoothly than his first one, Kevin Wang of ESPN.com reports. Jianlian signed a one-year deal with the Lakers this week that could be worth as much as $8MM. Yi bounced around the league for five seasons before returning to China in 2012. Harris, who is familiar with Yi after coaching the Chinese national team, said Yi’s style of play fits Walton’s offensive scheme. “I think that is the right team for him,” Harris told Wang. “He should be able to play for them and will really fit the style Luke employed so well last year [with the Warriors].”
  • Mavs guard Deron Williams believes LeBron James solidified his legacy by winning a championship with the Cavaliers, he said in an NBC Radio interview that was excerpted by the Dallas Morning News. James formed a “super team” with the Heat but proved he could win it all with an arguable lesser cast, according to Williams. “He went back to a team that won – what? – 20 games before he got there, and took them to the Finals, and now they won a championship,” Williams said. “And if you take him off that team, I don’t know where they’d be, they’d still be a good team, but they wouldn’t be competing for a championship.”
  • Thunder small forward Kyle Singler is preparing himself for a much larger role in the wake of Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. Singler got in the gym right after the season and worked out with the summer league team, Horne continues. “When I was trying to think about how I want to maximize my summer, my first thing I wanted to do was play as much basketball as possible,” Singler told Horne. Oklahoma City doesn’t have another small forward with Singler’s combination of size, length and shooting ability, making him a prime candidate to receive the bulk of Durant’s minutes, Horne adds.

Latest On Kevin Durant’s Free Agency

League insiders believe the second-round win over the Spurs was enough to keep Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, according to Bobby Marks of The Vertical. In a video, Marks says the most likely scenario is for Durant to sign a one-year deal with the Thunder worth about $25.9MM that includes a player option for 2017/18.

Next summer, Durant will have 10 years of NBA experience and will become a Tier Three Max player, which means Oklahoma City could offer him more than $200MM over five seasons. If Durant opts for a long-term deal this offseason, OKC can offer five years at about $145MM. Risks involved in choosing a single-season deal are Durant’s injury history and the possibility of a new collective bargaining agreement next year that would shake up the league’s salary structure. Marks lists the Spurs, Heat, Celtics and Warriors as teams expected to make a run at Durant, while ESPN’s Marc Stein (via Twitter) adds the Rockets, Knicks, Lakers, and Wizards to that list.

Durant told Sam Amick of USA Today that he was able to push the free agency issue aside and concentrate fully on every playoff game. “If this would have happened four years ago, I would have been everywhere – my mind would have been everywhere,” he said. “So I’m happy that I was able to focus and lock in and give my all to my team every single night.” Whether it’s a clue to his decision or not, Durant later added, “I see bright things for this team. And it’s great to be a part of it.”

San Antonio, Miami and Golden State are the top contenders if Durant decides to go elsewhere, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. Isola contends the Knicks could be helped if Durant opts for a one-year contract because it gives them another season to improve, along with another year of growth for rookie Kristaps Porzingis.

The Knicks hurt their case when they fired coach Derek Fisher, Durant’s former teammate, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. Two advantages they have are that Carmelo Anthony, who has a good relationship with Durant, wants to be part of the recruitment process, and that Durant’s father is a longtime fan of the Knicks. However, New York assistant Brian Keefe, who was Durant’s workout partner in Oklahoma City, reportedly won’t be part of Jeff Hornacek’s new staff.

The odds against Durant signing with the Heat are even greater than they were against LeBron James coming to Miami in 2010, argues Ethan Skolnick of The Miami Herald. Skolnick writes that team president Pat Riley’s best chance is to sell Durant on the possibility of winning a championship with the Heat. However, the 55-win Thunder are also serious title contenders, Durant doesn’t have a close relationship with any of the Miami players like James did with Dwyane Wade and the new restrictions on sign-and-trade deals make it more difficult for players to recoup whatever money they give up to sign with another team.

Durant and the Clippers could both change their postseason fortunes if they unite, writes Dan Woike of The Orange County Register. Woike notes that L.A. won’t have the money to pursue the OKC star because two thirds of its cap room is tied up in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but he argues that it might be worth trading one of those three to create the room to sign Durant.

Durant’s friendship with James Harden and the addition of an offensive-minded coach in Mike D’Antoni give the Rockets a least a fighting chance of landing Durant, according to Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. In addition, Rex Kalamian, who may join D’Antoni’s staff, coached both Harden and Durant when he was an assistant with the Thunder.

And-Ones: Knicks, D-League, Lauvergne

Team USA improved to 4-0 in the FIBA World Cup with a 106-71 victory over the Dominican Republic tonight. Kenneth Faried led the way with 16 points and six rebounds, DeMarcus Cousins added 13 points, and DeMar DeRozan contributed 11. Next up for Team USA is a match-up against the Ukraine this Friday. Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • The Knicks made four new additions to their coaching staff today, the team announced. Joining Derek Fisher‘s staff as assistant coaches are Jim Cleamons, Rasheed Hazzard, and Brian Keefe, with Joshua Longstaff also coming aboard as assistant coach for player development.
  • The Pistons have officially named Otis Smith the coach of their NBA D-League franchise, the Grand Rapids Drive, the team announced (Twitter link).
  • Smith is interested in the player developmental aspects of coaching in the D-League, writes Peter J. Wallner of MLive. Smith said, “I like that ‘development’ is in the league’s name. This way I can spend more time in staff development and player development, both on and off the floor. Just being on the floor with guys, teaching them, that’s what excites me the most about coaching at this level. Helping guys get to the next level, and helping them be a professional is what’s intriguing to me.”
  • Joffrey Lauvergne told John Schuhmann of NBA.com (Twitter link) that the Nuggets offered him a minimum salary deal this summer. That wasn’t enough to entice the No. 55 pick in the 2013 NBA draft to head to the states, so Lauvergne signed with Khimki of the Russian League. His deal does have a buyout clause that could be used next summer, notes Schuhmann.

And-Ones: Love, Wiggins, Sterlings, Durant

The Cavs aren’t dangling Andrew Wiggins in trade talks with the Wolves about Kevin Love, at least for the time being, a source tells Bob Finnan of The News-Herald, who was the first to report last week that Cleveland was open to the idea of parting with Wiggins. So, while no one involved would guarantee Finnan that Wiggins wouldn’t wind up in a Love deal, it sounds like that idea is on the backburner for now. Here’s more from around the Association:

  • Testimony has resumed today in the probate trial between Clippers owners Donald and Shelly Sterling after the judge made a pair of decisions Friday that appear to help Shelly Sterling’s case, as USA Today’s David Leon Moore details. The judge has the power to allow Shelly Sterling to go forward with her sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, if he rules in her favor, even if Donald Sterling decides to appeal, according to Moore.
  • A member of the players association’s executive committee told TNT’s David Aldridge that the union will discuss the idea of taking action should the Sterlings continue to own the Clippers at the start of next season, as Aldridge writes in his Morning Tip column for NBA.com.
  • Thunder assistant coach Brian Keefe, whom Knicks head coach Derek Fisher has reportedly lured to serve as a Knicks assistant, was the member of the Oklahoma City staff whom Kevin Durant trusted the most, Aldridge notes in the same piece.
  • A source tells Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that Knicks GM Steve Mills recently pulled his name from contention for the union’s executive director vacancy. Mills re-emerged as a candidate this spring after having been the apparent front-runner last summer prior to taking the Knicks job.
  • The final two seasons of the four-year contract between Devin Harris and the Mavs are a little more lucrative than previously reported. He’ll make nearly $4.728MM in year three and nearly $4.903MM in the final season, which is partially guaranteed for almost $1.34MM, as Mark Deeks of ShamSports details on his Mavs salary page.