Marks and Atkinson ... in it together.
That’s the message from Chris Mannix’s profile of Kenny Atkinson. He and his GM, Sean Marks, are team, work together and understand one doesn’t succeed without the other.
“He’s amazing,” Atkinson told Mannix. “I’ve seen it on other teams, where if you’re getting pressure and negativity from above, that would be really hard. I’m usually the one that’s negative. I’m usually the one that’s like, ‘Man, we’ve got to do this better, that better,’ and he has been the positive one. He feels like we’re trying, we’re pulling out all the stops. The great thing about Sean: He’s coached before. So he was with Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich]. So he gets it. He’ll come into our coaches’ meeting, and I always ask him, ‘What do you think we should do in practice today?’ And I mean the guy’s been in a great program, coached with a great coach, and so a lot of times, I use his suggestions.
“We are really in it together, and he’s been a big help. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything, either. It’s not like, ‘Hey, don’t worry, everything is going to be all right.’ He knows the task is difficult but he’s been amazing. I mean the text you get after a tough loss, and he’ll try to pick out a positive or say, ‘Hang in there, we’ll get this thing moving in the right direction.’ Just little words like that of encouragement when you think, ‘Oh man, we’re not going to win another game for the rest of the year,’ or something like that. It’s huge.”
Like the Jackie MacMullan piece on ESPN, Mannix’s profile is about where the Nets are now, but in the context of where they want to go and how they’re preparing the road to get there. What makes this season’s failings all the worse, Atkinson admits, is that he thought they would be better ... and then Jeremy Lin went down.
“You’re naive, you know?” Atkinson told The Vertical. “I didn’t think we were going to win 60 games, but I felt like coming out of camp, we were going to be better than people thought. I’d be lying to say that it wasn’t in the back of my mind to beat all the [predictions], to overachieve a little bit.”
But as Mannix notes, Atkinson has not disappointed with player development. When you have no picks, as the Nets did (they’ve added a couple under Marks), finding and improving young players who for whatever reason got lost on their way. Atkinson has seen it happen, with Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore in Atlanta, and with an Asian-American Harvard grad in New York.
“We’ve only touched the beginnings of this, and it’s going to take time, but I’d like to see what Caris looks like in two years, what Joe Harris looks like in two years; what Justin [Hamilton], even though he’s a little older, what can he be as he gets more comfortable with the system,” Atkinson told Mannix.
“I believe so much in development, and I believe that guys can improve, and so I just throw myself into it. When you’re in it every day and you’re like, ‘Man, this guy can be better than people think. This guy can be better than that,’ that’s really what drives you every day. And you know in the back of your mind, ‘Can Joe Harris eventually be a starter or rotation player in this league?’ It pushes you...
“I look at it like I deserve … like I deserve to start at the bottom. This is how it should be. I shouldn’t be handed some prime job. This fits. It should be, I think, a guy like me that’s got a lot to prove. I deserve this, to start at the bottom. I really believe that I have to pay my dues, and it’s great. It’s funny the situation we are in, without our picks, we never use that as a crutch. We never talk about the past. We’re talking about getting better in the here and now, and getting better in the future. That’s the only talk that’s around here. We’ve completely put [the past] in a box and are focused on moving forward.”
When will it all happen? WILL it all happen? No guarantees, admits Atkinson. Until then, whenever it is, Atkinson knows what to do. “Routine,” he says, “is my savior.”
- Kenny Atkinson: 'I really believe that I have to pay my dues, and it's great' - Chris Mannix - The Vertical