Kenny Atkinson out as Brooklyn Nets coach in surprise split

NEW YORK — Kenny Atkinson won’t have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together in Brooklyn.

The Nets surprisingly split with their coach Saturday, even as they remain on track for a second consecutive playoff berth.

The morning after Atkinson guided the Nets to a 139-120 rout of San Antonio, the Nets announced the decision to part with the fourth-year coach.

“After discussions with Kenny about the progress of the season, we mutually agreed that a coaching change would be in the best interest of the team,” general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision, however the organization believes it is one that is necessary at this time.”

Assistant Jacque Vaughn will serve as coach for the rest of the season. He coached Orlando for two-plus seasons, from 2012-15.

The Nets are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Atkinson was 118-190 in 3 1/2 seasons of his first NBA head coaching job.

They returned to the post-season last year and are five games clear of ninth-place Washington despite a 28-34 record.

That comes despite only 20 games from Irving and none from Durant, the two superstars they signed last summer to bring heightened expectations to Brooklyn.

But the Nets had ruled out Durant from the start as he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery, and Irving is sidelined for the season after playing just 20 games before having shoulder surgery.

The Nets had struggled since the All-Star break, with their victory Friday just their second in seven games. Brooklyn was ripped 118-79 at home by Memphis in its previous game.

Atkinson then made a lineup change and the Nets responded against the Spurs with their best offensive performance of the season, putting eight players in double figures.

Atkinson is a Long Island native who had been an assistant coach with Atlanta and New York when Marks hired him as Nets coach in April 2016.

That came as the Nets were mired near the bottom of the NBA as they tried to dig their way out of damage following a 2013 trade with Boston, in which they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce but gave up years of assets and salary-cap flexibility.

Brooklyn went 20-62 in Atkinson’s first season, 28-54 the next and nothing much was expected last season.

But the Nets surged to a 42-40 finish, earning their first playoff spot since 2015, and Atkinson was credited with helping D’Angelo Russell reach his first All-Star Game, and Spencer Dinwiddie grow from a Development League player to a third-place finisher in voting for the Sixth Man award.

“Kenny was instrumental in developing our players and building the identity and culture we have become known for over these past four seasons,” Marks said. “The foundation he helped put into place here is one that we will continue to build on in the coming seasons.”

The signings of Durant and Irving brought unprecedented attention since the team moved to Brooklyn in 2012, along with talk of 50-win seasons and contending for titles. Durant mentioned his respect for Atkinson’s work as one reason for choosing the Nets after leaving Golden State.

But Irving began having trouble with his right shoulder in early November and eventually had to miss nearly two months, never allowing the Nets to build much chemistry on a roster that had made a number of other changes.

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