BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Kenny Atkinson and the Nets were trying to look forward Thursday after Jeremy Lin’s season-ending injury ... but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deflate the mood around HSS Training Center.
“I think my sole, singular thought is for his health, his well-being, his family, it’s really a tough time,” Kenny Atkinson told reporters at Thursday’s practice. “I’m really thinking about him, I’m not even thinking about coaching or what our rotations look like but I just told our guys today, today is about supporting him. Here’s a guy that came back from an injury last year, really worked hard this summer, and to have something like that happen, it’s like the Gordon Hayward thing – you’re just sick about it. You’re physically sick.”
Atkinson went on to explain how Lin approached him after the game to re-assure the second-year coach.
“The great thing he said to me – ‘hey listen, I think we’re better equipped this year. We have more depth’ – and that’s the type of guy he is. He’s obviously going through a tough time and to say that shows what kind of leader he is and how much he cares about the organization.”
Atkinson wouldn’t discuss any new rotation — “Out of respect for Jeremy,” he explained. It’s a particularly tough blow for the coach who helped develop Lin with the Knicks, then brought him to Brooklyn. A big part of the Nets plan this season was to have the 29-year-old Lin mentor the 21-year-old D’Angelo Russell.
“I think that’s part of the frustration. It’s amazing how much those two [Russell and Lin] talked on the court. I think I’ve already said, but it was like, when I’d call a play, they’ve already discussed it. They usually pick the right play. That was an exciting thing to see, how well they were communicating and talking about what was going on – they’re really ultimate professionals in terms of collaborating.”
It’s a tough break on many levels. Lin is a leader for the team on and off the court. He helped with younger players like Russell and serves almost as a ‘player-coach’ for Atkinson. His leadership and work ethic spoke for themselves. Those are the things the Nets will miss with Lin being gone the entire season ... and out of the gym.
“I think the things we’re going to miss are his competitiveness – he really sets the standard with his competitiveness. How much he improved as a defensive player from the time he was with the Knicks up to now is amazing – and then just his leadership by example … his understanding of what the staff wants, what the coaching staff wants. We’ve got to call it what it is, it’s a big blow.”
Like last year, Lin will have to be a leader from the sidelines, once he recovers from imminent surgery.
“He was great last year. He was around all the time. He was in my offense telling me what plays to run. I know he’s going to be active. He’s so invested. He put so much work into this organization. When Sean and I were building here he signed up, maybe when he could’ve gone into some other places. The fact that he committed to us. He’s one of us. He’s a Net. The more he’s around, the better for me.”
Throughout the interview, Atkinson constantly used the word “brothers” and “family”. It’s part of the culture the Nets are trying to build, and one for which Lin helped set the precedent. So, it stung for everybody on the team because nobody wants to see family go down like that. DeMarre Carroll described the plane ride home as, “mild mannered”.
“Obviously, we’ve got to give him some space and figure it out,” Atkinson said. “I think the important thing here is family. I think he needs that support, there’s nothing like family support. I want him to know that this is his second family. We’re here. I want him involved as much as possible. But I could definitely see him saying ‘hey, listen, I need some space. I need some time to get away.’ I think as a group we’ll see what that looks like.”
“They’re so close to it. Watching the clip again – as soon as he went down it seemed like they knew. They ran over there because they don’t want to see their brother, their teammate gets hurt. To get hurt in that manner I think is pretty traumatizing for these guys. They understand how lucky they are to be in this league, how lucky well all are to have our health. I think there’s a lot of emotions for all these guys.”
Still, despite the deflating news, Atkinson and the Nets remain optimistic that they’re headed in the right direction. It isn’t the best situation, but the coach feels the adversity will help the team grow.
“I think we’re in a good place as an organization. We’re strong enough top to bottom, Sean (Marks) all the way down. We’re moving in the right direction; I think as a group together. We’re going to grow from this. It’s not the most fortunate situation but we’ve got a great locker room. I know Jeremy is going to support us.”
Jeremy Lin will have played 37 games in two seasons with the Nets. He has a $12.5 million player option at the end of this year. No word on that, of course, and no word on rotation changes.
And although Atkinson wouldn’t talk about rotations, expect Caris LeVert to fill his spot in the backcourt to develop chemistry with Russell. It was supposed to be the backcourt of the future. After Wednesday night, it’s the backcourt of now.