Nets general manager Sean Marks called new coach Kenny Atkinson his No. 1 choice, and the former Atlanta Hawks assistant said Brooklyn was his top destination because of his affinity for his new boss.
“I really felt like Sean was someone I could build a partnership with, someone I could collaborate with, and someone I could trust,” said Atkinson, who was formally introduced at the Nets’ Sunset Park training facility on May 16. “That really excited me — really made me aggressive in pursuing this job.”
Whatever Atkinson did worked, because Marks quickly picked him last month to move the franchise forward. The Huntington native is known for being a top-flight player-developer, has international experience as a player and coach, and worked under National Basketball Association coaches such as Rick Adelman, Mike D’Antoni, and Mike Budenholzer.
“It was clear to us,” Marks said. “Player development was part of it. It stood out, but it was more than just that. It was everything he brought to the table. It was his character, his values, and perhaps above all else, it was a passion for the job.”
The 48-year-old Atkinson — the Nets’ fourth head coach since moving to Brooklyn in 2012 — takes over a team that went 21–61 last season abd placed second-to-last in the Eastern Conference.
The word “championship” was not uttered. Instead Marks and Atkinson spoke of patience and building.
“To build patiently, intelligently,” Atkinson said of what his vision. “We are going to put a competitive group [for 82 games] on the floor first and foremost.”
The club does not have a first-round draft pick and isn’t anticipating overnight success — something that was tough to hear for nine-year veteran Thaddeus Young, who nonetheless understands it is the franchise’s best course for the moment.
“I hate patience,” Young said. “I want to win each and every game now, but it is definitely something you have to have. I hate the word ‘patience,’ but sometimes that has to happen in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Atkinson, who already hired Orlando head coach Jacque Vaughn as an assistant, spoke of letting Young fellow veteran and Brook Lopez lead the otherwise young team, including first-year player’s Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Young has been impressed with Atkinson so far, and so have fellow players, Young said.
“I spoke to a lot of guys about him, and they said he brings a lot of character and energy,” he said. “He just brings the building up.”
Atkinson had a smile on his face the entire time as he and family took in the new reality on Monday.
“Before that was fantasy land,” he said. “Today was really that first moment.”