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Inside the film room with Kenny Atkinson

NBA Mexico Games 2017 - All Access Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Film sucks, but it’s important.

Ask any head coach of any team. The film room is a special kind of family get-together, unique to anything else surrounding sports. Many will say that it’s the most important aspect of the game, aside from the game itself.

It’s where you win or lose and where careers have been expedited or exploited.

Kenny Atkinson knows of its importance, and with a young team like the Brooklyn Nets whose average age is just a tad over 25, the film room is that much more essential, because you have a collection of widely talented athletes who are undergoing their trial by fire.

The 16-28 Nets, who are now seven games away from that eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, are only halfway done with their 2017-18 crash course.

For Atkinson, class is always in session.

“I think film is huge. It’s got to smack you in the face. You’ve got to show it to them,” said Atkinson on Tuesday after practice, and in effect, a film study. “We have to confront it, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me, it’s uncomfortable for them, but I do think the guys appreciate that when you talk about physicality, competitiveness, they have to see what does that mean.”

As far as competitive nature goes, it almost goes hand-in-hand with ego at this level: you have to have it or you won’t survive.

Atkinson knows that his youthful Nets are better than what they’ve shown of late even as their best two players sit and watch with injuries.

This is why the film room, where men could be celebrated, elevated, humbled, disconnected, and grilled all in one session, is so critical to head coaches.

“I felt like last night we dipped in our competitive level, and then our execution level, which means executing what the heck we’re doing on defense,” Atkinson said less than 24 hours after the Nets lost to the New York Knicks by 15 points after trailing by two earlier. “When there’s six, seven, eight breakdowns in coverages, and you add that to ‘we’re not competing at the level we need to,’ then you take a 20-point loss.”

He insists that the conversations are generally positive, and knowing Atkinson, that’s no surprise.

You’re harder on those you love, it’s human nature. You yell just a little bit louder, with a little more passion, but beneath the tone of your voice lies a little more hope. Why? Because you give a damn. You care, almost too much.

We know the respect is there, but in Brooklyn, the tough love is there, too.

We’ve written about how Atkinson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the longest-tenured Net, have developed a special coach and pupil bond. Hell, even in 2016-17, when Atkinson absorbed blowout loss after blowout loss around this exact time last winter as a first-year head coach, he praised his team for lifting his spirits throughout the morbid basement period of Nets basketball.

So right now, it’s all about progress and productivity.

“Those film sessions are, quite honestly, brutal,” said Atkinson, with a smirk. “For them, for me, it’s just a tough conversation. It’s like having a conversation with a family member, ‘you’re not doing this well enough,’ and then your peers hear it, and then coaches hear it, and that’s tough.

“I don’t think over an 82-game season that you coach like that every day; it’ll tune you out,” he continued. “So finding the moments, it’s a big discussion among our staff, what are we doing today? Are we going to hit them hard? Because some days I think you’ve got to lay off.”

Tuesday, Atkinson says he didn’t lay off, calling it “very tough,” but saying that the team tries to reduce those type of sessions because players will tune out for a while.

Sure, your voice may get more irritating during pressurized moments around family, and even though your intentions are good, you don’t want the message to get lost. Atkinson is growing just like his Nets are, and searching for that balance. For now, and the foreseeable future, the Brooklyn family is in it together, even though film sucks.