Atlanta is a hell of a time for a lot of people, and Kenny Atkinson is no exception.
As an assistant coach from 2012-to-2016, Atkinson was part of a Hawks’ run that saw them reach the playoffs in all four years, and even win 60 wins one season. It’s one of the things that made Atkinson a hot commodity on the head coaching market and helped him land in Brooklyn in the spring of 2016,
The Hawks’ 60-win season was especially memorable as the Hawks looked like they were morphing into San Antonio Spurs East. They had four all-stars in their starting five, players like Al Horford, Jeff Teague. The other starter was DeMarre Carroll, a current Net, who had a career season.
That 2014-15 campaign saw the Hawks reach the Eastern Conference semifinals, and head coach Mike Budenholzer, a former Spur assistant, win NBA Coach of the Year.
So that’s why when asked about his ties to Atlanta, Atkinson responded; “You want me to start crying today?” followed by a laugh.
“In my coaching life, I just think I’ve learned a ton about culture, a ton about basketball in general. ‘Bud’ was a great mentor,” he said of Budenholzer. “It was an excellent team, an excellent group of guys, so I just felt like I took a jump as a coach. I took the next step. I became a lead assistant, that was important – it really prepared me for this job.”
Atkinson says he and Budenholzer have maintained a relationship even through the difficulties of competition. Although they aren’t able to talk often, they do speak a bit during the season and Atkinson extends his former running buddy a great deal of respect and gratitude. .
“We text. You know, it’s hard when you’re competing,” said Atkinson. “That’s not easy but listen, we’re very close, as colleagues and personally. I have a ton of respect for him and what he’s done with our program. Great coach.”
Of course, there are similarities in the styles of play between not only the Spurs and those Hawks, but also these Nets. Obviously, the success has yet to follow in Brooklyn.
“We do a lot of the same things we did in Atlanta. I copied and stole a lot of things,” Atkinson said with a chuckle. “That’s the biggest compliment of how we run our program. Then Sean (Marks) and I have a common bond. So Mike was a Spurs guy, Sean was there with him. It kind of makes our relationship, Sean and I, we share a background. Not saying the Hawks were exactly like the Spurs but we kind of were cousins in a weird type way.”
So expect some hugs along the sideline Saturday afternoon. Then, the competitive juices will start to flow and the time in Atlanta will fade.