Kenny Atkinson had a choice when the Hawks season ended in the second round of the playoffs: get some rest or head for his new job in Brooklyn. He chose the latter and said the decision was easy.
"As soon as I finished in Atlanta, I came to Brooklyn," Atkinson said after the Nets defeated the Cavaliers, 79-73 last week. "Everyone was telling me to get rest, but I felt like I had to be on the job ASAP because it’s on my ledger now. I’m glad I did it."
"On his ledger," meaning his responsibility. He also decided it would be same for his coaching staff, which he and Sean Marks had just finished assembling. All of them flew to Las Vegas.
"I know the first year is not going to be easy, establishing a program, building a program, hiring staff, dealing with new players, free agents — the whole thing is much bigger than when I was an assistant," he said.
Aside from creating a new staff and new culture, Atkinson also made some decisions on what to do on the court in Las Vegas. Initially, he said the criterion was "just getting better," but he liked what he saw from his core group of Sean Kilpatrick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough and changed his strategy.
"The more those guys play together, the more continuity we have," Atkinson said Friday, after a summer league practice. "And I think it facilitates playing well together. So I think you can see I’ve been keeping that lineup together, instead of mixing and matching. We did it the first game, we liked what we saw, and I think we’re going to stick with it."
So far, so good. The Nets are in the quarterfinals of the Summer League playoffs, seeded six out of 24 teams who started play last weekend
"It’s almost like they’re the freshman class coming up," Atkinson said. "So I like that."
Although everyone has either denigrated the Nets roster or suggested the best they do is develop individual players, Atkinson has told people he wants to win games and it starts with Summer League.
"We are taking this very seriously, coaching these players and looking for progress every day," he said.
His players, at least those in Las Vegas, like what they've seen. In the last week, two of them have have used the same words to describe how they think about Atkinson. "We can say we'd go to war for coach. He's been good," said Hollis-Jefferson last week. "He’s somebody I’d go to war for each and every day," Kilpatrick agreed
They'll get ample time to do that.