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The Athletic: Team meetings preceded Atkinson ouster

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Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In an exclusive report, The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer detail the final days of Kenny Atkinson’s tenure, suggesting two team meetings last week — one at halftime of Tuesday’s game against the Celtics in Boston, the other the next night after the Grizziles blew them out at Barclays — led to the ouster.

In particular, Charania and Schiffer write, the second meeting saw players level charges both against the coach and each other. No one, the two write, held back.

Atkinson walked into the postgame locker room, sat down in a chair and told his players and staff: It’s time to air out our grievances.

The Nets held a spirited team meeting, according to sources, starting with several veterans expressing that they wanted to see Spencer Dinwiddie play like the player they know, and later with people in the room calling out Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan. Then perhaps the most critical thing of all happened: Sources say Durant chimed in, pointing out that the Nets must improve their habits and that they were not building the proper culture traits necessary for a title contender.

Although Charania and Schiffer write that Durant and Kyrie Irving “didn’t connect” with Atkinson and had doubts about playing for him, the more direct issue between the coach and his new players concerned DeAndre Jordan. The 31-year-old had started more than 800 straight games going back to 2011 and expected that would continue with the Nets.

Jordan has said throughout the season that it’s been an adjustment for him to come off of the bench, but has tried to make the best of it. Allen has said all the right things and said he’s enjoyed learning from him and wouldn’t want Jordan benched in his favor if it affected the team’s success. After splitting minutes throughout the season, Jordan overtook Allen in February in terms of minutes played by a handful.

But Atkinson apparently lost more than just his new players.

During Wednesday’s spirited postgame meeting, the players did not shy away from critiquing Atkinson, expressing to the coach that they wanted him to identify roles better, communicate the team’s hierarchy better, change what needs fixing and not settle for the status quo. It summed up the growing displeasure with Atkinson’s communication levels, as well.

“It was a come-to-Jesus moment,” one source with knowledge of the meeting said. “It was an honest conversation where everyone tried to make things right.”

But it didn’t make things right, according to Charania and Schiffer. Atkinson was stubborn and changes to his offense in particular.

This aftermath of Wednesday’s meeting was going to go one of two ways. Either Atkinson would return to the team setting more motivated to fix the issues the players had — or Atkinson would lose confidence in himself as the head coach and lose grip of the team. Sources described Atkinson as dejected, and in the two days that follow he is said to have talked to people about not allowing anyone to dictate his job, about going out on his own terms if necessary, with two years guaranteed left on his contract.

Things came to a head on Friday at HSS Training Center.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came Friday at the practice facility, when GM Sean Marks and Atkinson discussed his waning voice with the team. One source said the final decision to part ways was not made until late Friday night and into Saturday.

Even in his final days as head coach, Atkinson told people that if he were going to be fired, he was going to depart on his terms. An offseason dismissal was almost inevitable, and so Atkinson made it known: If you’re going to fire me, just let me out now.

Charania and Schiffer do not mention Joe Tsai’s role —he had to have one. Nor what direction do they believe the Nets will take next. He does say that “Brooklyn is committed to Vaughn and seeing this current staff through” and that the organization believes in the coaching staff’s commitment.

Bottom line, he writes, is that despite what happened this weekend, the Nets remain an attractive destination for coaches ... and players.

These Nets still have two of the sport’s top players, a creative front office intact and championship-contending aspirations going into next season, but a part of their fabric left on Saturday.

“I would’ve loved to have Kenny here long-term,” Marks said during a news conference on Saturday. “It was time for another voice in that locker room.”

A new culture will emerge in Brooklyn. It will just no longer be Atkinson’s.