It's probably not much of an exaggeration to say Kenny Atkinson, not the market, the arena or the training facility, is the Nets biggest asset. He is almost universally lauded by those he worked with in New York and Atlanta. Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kent Bazemore and of course Jeremy Lin have all praised the work he's done with them.
Same is true of the guys who are just getting to know him, the Nets summer league team that practiced as a unit Tuesday, getting ready for their first game on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas. In interviews with beat writers, Sean Kilpatrick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and summer league invite Yogi Ferrell all had positive things to say about the coach who will guide next week. saying he gives them confidence, cares about them as people and is worth going to war for.
"He's a great guy," said Kilpatrick. "I mean, he's someone that you would want as a coach and also, he cares about the players. You don't see a lot of guys in this league -- especially coaches, they have their agendas about things -- but Coach Atkinson, he's done a great job making sure we're sticking together with things.
"He's a player development coach and that's something that the young guys --me, Chris (McCullough) and Rondae-- that's something we need. He's gonna be on our tail non-stop, just to make sure we're getting the best out of our ability. So being able to have a guy like him and his assistant coaches around, that's something that's really amazing for the young guys."
Hollis-Jefferson as well emphasized Atkinson's focus on development, adding that it's not just skills development, but mental development as well, pointing out that Atkinson has asked him to be "high energy, set the tone" in Las Vegas.
"He's big on development," RHJ explained. "He's big on helping people, helping you understand the game more, taking the time out to let you know that he cares and that's a big thing that people trust you and know that he'll go to bat for you when its crunchtime, when it's war time. As of now, we can say we'd go to war for coach. He's been good."
Hollis-Jefferson also gave a shout-out to Atkinson's new staff.
"Whenveer we're out there, they've got great energy. That's a big thing in this game, how people's energy comes across and how it's perceived. They come in every day ready to work and that's what I love about those guys."
For Ferrell, who has a small financial guarantee but no guaranteed roster spot, Atkinson has been a confidence builder. Asked if's beneficial that he's working with a coach best known for his point guard development, Ferrell agreed.
"It's very beneficial and I feel I can learn a lot from him," said Ferrell. "Just the way he gives his players confidence and he can do that, we're going to have a very special team."
Ferrell also revealed a bit about Atkinson's offense. "We're gonna get out and run."
The team will practice through Thursday morning in Brooklyn, then fly out to Las Vegas that afternoon to get ready for Saturday's opener vs. the Cavaliers. Depending on how many games they can win, they could play as many as eight games in Vegas.
The Nets who played in two summer leagues last year decided during the Billy King era to cut it down to one this season. It's going to be convenient for Sean Marks who recently bought a vacation home in southern California.
It appeared that most, if not all the Nets coaching staff --plus the two European coaches brought in to help out for summer league-- were on hand Tuesday.even if Atkinson wasn't. Team officials wouldn't comment on his or Marks' whereabouts, but they had been in California over the weekend.
The Nets youngsters also declined to criticize Kevin Durant's decision to join the Warriors.
"You’ll crush a million people with any decision you make, because some people might want you to go here, some people might want you go there," said Hollis-Jefferson. "But at the end of the day it’s about what you feel is best for your situation. So nothing but the best to him and best wishes."