Mike Vaccaro sat down with Kenny Atkinson at a recent practice and talked about coaching, but also winning. While as Vaccaro notes, the Nets head coach has a great reputation for developing players, winning does matter.
And winning in New York, where he learned Atkinson learned his craft, matters even more.
“That’s why I put so much pressure on myself. I want to succeed here so badly, I don’t want it to be two or three jobs down the line in another city. I want this so bad for New York, for Long Island, for my family, for guys I played with. I mean, what would be better than that, getting the chance to win big here?”
Pausing, Atkinson then reiterated, “here.”
Of course, everyone wants to be a hometown hero, but for Atkinson, succeeding in New York would justify all those moments spent as a basketball vagabond far from home... in France, in Germany, in Spain, in the Netherlands. And justify the faith ownership and Sean Marks have had in him. He thinks he’s ready as he enters year 3 of his four-year deal.
“I’m much more comfortable now,” he says. “Everyone tells you about how hard that is, moving one seat over,” he told Vaccaro, talking about moving from assistant coach to head coach. “But it isn’t until you get the opportunity to do that you really understand. It was bigger I thought: the amount of decisions you have to make before a game and then how fast it comes at you in the game: the substitutions, the timeouts, the adjustments.”
It’s all learning on the job.
“You can never replicate being a head coach,” he says. “There’s no flight simulator. The only way you can really learn is to just jump in.”
He also knows that if the Nets are going to be an attractive place for free agents, particularly the big ones, he and his players —the organization— must show progress, a lot of it. He already believes one element needed to entice free agents is in place and will be more evident as the season wears on.
“We will be fun to watch because we really do play hard every game,” Atkinson says. “By January, February, people can expect to see a team that’s collaborative and works together and getting better every day at their roles and responsibilities.”
In other words, no promises other than hard work and taking advantage of continuity. Can that lead to more wins? Not many think there will be a big jump in wins this season after 20 and 28 the last two years. But that’s okay. Atkinson’s players do ... and that matters.
“I feel like it’s a competitive group,” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said after practice Sunday. “Every practice, every time we compete, it’s extremely energetic. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day. We’re making each other better. We’re getting after it. Ultimately it will show on the court at the end of the day.”
We and Atkinson will find out just how much starting this week.
- Striving to win big with Nets is everything to Kenny Atkinson - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post