The Nets rolled out the red carpet for Kenny Atkinson Monday, with a press conference and then media scrums with Atkinson, Sean Marks and Thaddeus Young. The four gym rats who are at the HSS Training Center every day -- Markel Brown, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick -- were there as well to take questions.
No one left early. Some of us even got a tour of the new rooftop players lounge.
So what did we learn? The Nets do have a history of winning press conferences (if not a lot of games), but this one did seem a bit different. There was a sense of family and commitment, well articulated. What happened in the past is just that, in the past.
--There is a core ... and it starts with Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who are quite clearly --barring a surprising offer-- the go-to guys, "character guys, competitive guys," as Marks called them. No guarantees, Marks said, but he also said quite clearly he hopes they're back and Atkinson went out of his way to call Young, "my guy." There were also mentions of the gym rats and Bojan Bogdanovic, Just as he has with the staff, Marks is intent on cutting some, keeping some. And there were intimations that the new brain trust doesn't think the old one got the most out of the roster. Marks talked about "maximizing talent" of returning players.
--Be patient. No one is promising anything other than a competitive team. Asked what his vision is, Atkinson quickly responded, "Build. Build patiently, intelligently, and from my standpoint, the message that these guys are gonna be hearing is that we're gonna put a competitive group first and foremost on the floor," he said promising that "Brooklyn fans if they watch a game, they're looking and saying 'Man, that's a competitive group. That group competes.'"
--The international emphasis is quite real. Atkinson, asked by Sarah Kustok about overseas potential, responded, "I look at a guy like Bogdanovic, like his skill level for his size. Normally they're skilled players who can shoot -- the players who make it from overseas to here -- and those are two huge characteristics in today's NBA. gotta be able to shoot the ball and skill is of the utmost importance. So believe me, we have an eye, many eyes on the international market." One person we didn't see yesterday was Trajan Langdon, the assistant GM with the international credentials. Flying back from Berlin, site of the Euroleague Final Four, maybe?
--The coaching staff is forming. Atkinson confirmed the Woj report of Jacque Vaughn's hire, talking about how he pursued Vaughn vigorously. We think we caught a view of him. Jimmy Sann, who's been with the Nets off and on since New Jersey, was there in workout clothes. David Nurse, who was a consultant last season, was there as well working with players on their shooting. Ronald Nored, the LI Nets head coach, was in the audience. The Nets say they're not the Spurs, not the Hawks, but they are not afraid to follow the Spurs model. You might see more hires as well from the San Antonio tree.
--Point guard, or should we say point guards, plural, are a priority. Sort of a duh, but Atkinson made it clear, nonetheless. "The point guard is like the NFL quarterback; that’s how important the position is. It’s the Drew Brees, the Aaron Rodgers. It’s super important. It’s going to be a big decision for us,’’ said Atkinson, known as the "point guard whisperer, adding,. "It’s going to be a big decision… There’s some exciting names out there. Hopefully we get lucky."
--Marks and Atkinson are on the same page. "There's a unified vision," Atkinson told the media after the press conference. "it's not going to be management or coaches or management or players. We're going to be together. He (Marks) was out on the floor today. watching them work out. For the GM to come out, it's important for the players to see that.unified front that we're really trying to build it." That's refreshing considering the last two coaches thought the GM was willing to throw them under the bus.
--Don't expect to hear a lot about Draft strategy. Not until the clock tolls 7 p.m. on June 23 anyway Asked if the Nets would move into the first round, Marks offered only a "we'll see." The players the Nets talked with in Chicago are mostly earmarked as high second rounders --although a couple have moved up in draftniks' eyes. With such limited resources, it would appear moving higher into the second round is more likely.
--Atkinson may have given Brett Yormark some ideas about a new marketing slogan. During his statement, the Long Island native said, "New York is basketball, Brooklyn is basketball." And be assured that he and Marks understand the free agent marketing potential of New York and Brooklyn. Others may doubt its lure, but not these guys. "I embrace the pressure and I know that comes with the territory, especially here," said Atkinson. "I don’t fear that. I welcome it. And I hope our players do, too."
Everyone understands the honeymoon will last until the first losing streak. That said, the Nets finally seem like a work in progress. That in and of itself is an improvement.