clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nets continue trek toward relevance with hire of Kenny Atkinson

Yet again, the Nets made a splash by not hiring a splashy candidate as their head coach.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since Lawrence Frank was fired in November 2009 after the Nets lost their first 16 games of the season -- en route to an unthinkable 12-win campaign -- the organization has had a total of seven different head coaches, four of which were of the interim variety.

Outside of Jason Kidd, fresh off his final season as a player with the Knicks, each of the Nets' hires since then -- be it Avery Johnson or Lionel Hollins -- had experienced success with other teams in the NBA but saw their tenures come to a close for a variety of reasons. Essentially, both were retread choices who ended up spending just a total of four seasons with the Nets (with their mid-season firings factored in).

Like it did with the roster over the past couple of seasons as the Nets transitioned from Newark to Brooklyn, the front office focused on hiring coaches who were well-liked in the media and were big enough names to be approved by fans who didn't know any better. While the firing of Johnson just 28 games into the first season in Brooklyn was probably premature -- and Hollins' tenure wasn't helped by an injured and disinterested Deron Williams -- it's clear they weren't the right choices for the aging and highly paid rosters they were tasked to work with.

Now, with Brook Lopez representing the only real holdover from the core of the Billy King era roster, Brooklyn is in a much different situation than it has been in recent years. Without a first round pick and a relative lack of experienced NBA talent, the Nets have almost no hope of being in playoff contention in the 2016-17 season and look like a completely different organization than the one that traded for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in years past.

Not many people think the Nets will be contenders anytime soon -- even with an intriguing core centered around Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young -- and, finally, their front office and coaching staff is being built with that in mind. Rebuilding teams needs coaches focused on player development and executives with longterm goals in mind, not short-term stop-gaps.

According to all reports, Kenny Atkinson is the perfect coach for that mindset. After playing at Richmond for four seasons, Atkinson had an undistinguished professional career which included stops with 16 different teams in the US, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands which he parlayed into a short coaching stint in France.

From there, he was hired as an assistant with the Knicks before heading to Atlanta. Along the way, in 2015, he was hired as the head coach of the Dominican Republic national team. Now, as he transitions into his debut head-coaching job with the Nets, he's in the spotlight for the first time in his professional career -- in either the playing or coaching ranks -- as he leads a team trying to avoid the headlines for once in its Brooklyn history.

Wherever he has gone, Atkinson has been lauded for his player development skills, which certainly hasn't been the case for any of the Nets' recent coaches. He gets unanimous praise from Hawks players.

“He has been awesome for us here in Atlanta,” Kyle Korver said of Atkinson. “I think our player development has been second to none the last four years. I think it has been amazing watching guys develop and grow and Kenny leads that."

“He always has this good aura and swagger about himself,” Kent Bazemore said. “Even just how he walks around, he still stays in shape, he is out here warming up barefoot, doing push-ups. He is just as into it as we are."

Most of the Nets roster he'll be working with will be under 30 -- predominantly under the age of 26 or so -- which makes development one of the more important characteristics he's going to be bringing to the table. Guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Markel Brown, to name a few, are still raw NBA projects -- considering how the Nets' draft pick situation is dreadful at best -- who need to turn into solid contributors if this rebuild is going to be somewhat successful in the next couple of years.

Lionel Hollins isn't walking through that door. Avery Johnson isn't walking through that door. Jason Kidd isn't walking through that door. The Nets' next coach is not a retread by any means. Instead, he's a highly sought-after talent in the industry who has received rave reviews from everywhere he has been.

He's also a Long Island native who is a New Yorker through and through with deep ties to the area. While some of the Billy King hires felt more like mercenaries who didn't have longer term goals for the Nets -- or were just angling for more power, such as Mr. Kidd -- Atkinson feels different.

He willingly signed on for what is going to be one of the more ambitious roster revamps in the NBA's recent history. Without lottery picks or a bonafide superstar, Atkinson is going to attempt to build a winner in a major market. Sure, the Nets have a ton of cap room in the upcoming offseasons, but with an unproven talent base, will a major free agent want to sign on in Brooklyn?

Atkinson -- and Sean Marks, for that matter -- cannot base their strategy moving forward on whether or not the Nets will be able to attract a marquee free agent. Also, they would be ill-advised to make another future-mortgaging move for a star that would help in the upcoming season but hurt in the seasons to come. They'll have to be patient and smart, which would be a welcome change for both the franchise and its fans.