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David Fizdale trashes Nets culture for caving in to superstars

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2019 Basketball Without Borders Africa Camp Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

When he departed the Knicks in February, ESPN reported that David Fizdale signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his exit package. Okay, he was fired and can’t talk about the Knicks.

But that NDA doesn’t prevent him from talking about other things, like the Nets which he did Wednesday on ESPN Radio. Bottom line, said Fizdale, is if the Nets culture was so strong, it should have been able to withstand the arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ... and not have to unceremoniously dump Kenny Atkinson.

“When it comes to players with power, a lot of it has to do with your front office has to really be strong and your culture has to be strong to weather disgruntled players,” Fizdale told ESPN Radio. “And you have to have a certain amount of support for their coach so when things get turbulent…I’ll give you a perfect example: It wasn’t always perfect in Miami between (Erik Spoelstra) and LeBron (James).

“But one thing we knew for sure: Spo wasn’t going anywhere, because he had the support of Pat (Riley), Andy Elisburg and the (Micky) Arison family, from the standpoint of ‘This is our culture, this is how we do things, and everyone has to adjust to that.’ That’s the thing I respect so much about those teams like San Antonio and Miami, they make the players adapt to their culture. They don’t go the other way.”

Of course, Fizdale had his own experience with superstars flexing their muscle to dump a coach. The Grizzlies reportedly fired Fizdale in November 2017 because he couldn’t get along with Memphis’ stars, specifically Marc Gasol.

There were a lot of reports at the time of Atkinson’s firing earlier this month (seems like a lot longer ago!) that Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and even DeAndre Jordan had pushed to get Atkinson replaced, but the Nets and at least Jordan denied it. The Nets explained that both the front office and Atkinson believed a new deal was needed. There was also a report that owner Joe Tsai spoke with players (not further identified) before signing off on the move.

Jacque Vaughn wouldn’t speak to the issue of whether the superstars were responsible for Atkinson’s departure but he did admit he reached out to them after he was named interim coach.

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

“I don’t want to speak for those guys [regarding pushback], but what I will say is that in today’s game you have to be able to continually reinforce your philosophy and continue to communicate with guys.”

Fizdale admits he doesn’t know what happened, but suggested that Irving’s reputation, in particular, leads him to think there’s something there.

“I don’t really have an opinion one way or another,” Fizdale said about Irving. “But you can’t deny the fact he won a championship in Cleveland and did enough to help a team get all the way to the end, and was a huge part of it. And the last two places it just didn’t work out and I wasn’t in the building to know exactly what was going on. But it can be one of two things: He was either that guy who doesn’t adapt and kills culture. Or he’s a Jimmy Butler who needs to find a right fit.”

Fizdale said he spoke and texted with Atkinson recently and believes “Kenny’s going to be right back in the saddle.”

Like many in the coaching fraternity, Fizdale said he was shocked by the Nets decision and contrasted it with his situation.

“It’s a kick in the stomach to hear that,” Fizdale admitted. “And more so than my situation. I was 4-18; I can take it, I’m a big boy. Your record is a big deal a lot of times in the league. But I think to see Kenny under the circumstances, they were seventh seed in the East, he’d taken that team from a lot of Ls to now a team that was starting to become a regular in the playoffs.

“You look at that roster from the standpoint of you don’t have D’Angelo Russell now, Kyrie misses 40-plus games, no Kevin Durant, and you’re still in the seventh seed — which I thought was awesome and amazing that he was doing that, and he was building another All-Star point guard in (Spencer) Dinwiddie — and to see that happen so abruptly, when it happened, the way it happened, it was a kick in the stomach.”