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Mike D’Antoni: Kenny Atkinson has done a ‘magnificent job’

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In a lengthy profile of Kenny Atkinson, The Athletic’s Moke Hamilton’s quotes Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni on what might be the most telling praise the Nets coach has received since taking over the Nets job in 2016-17.

The biggest difference between the Nets then and now, D’Antoni said, is that opponents can’t think they’ll arrive in New York, enjoy a night out on the town and expect to leave with a win.

“You can’t just come up here and think you’re gonna beat them,” D’Antoni said, adding, “They’re playing hard every night.”

D’Antoni and Atkinson spent time together of course in New York when D’Antoni tried to deal with the crosswinds buffeting the Knicks, and Atkinson was his development coach ... and trusted aide.

“He was a voice of reason through some tough times in New York, so I didn’t have a doubt that he would do a good job,” D’Antoni said. “I had complete faith that if the opportunity had arisen, he’d be good.”

Atkinson most famously pushed for D’Antoni to play Jeremy Lin and the result was Linsanity. But ultimately things didn’t work out and D’Antoni quit. Atkinson moved on to a similar job with the Hawks before ultimately answering the call from Sean Marks in Brooklyn.

D’Antoni mostly remembers his work ethic.

“Always first in the gym — he was like that as a player and now as a coach,” D’Antoni told The Athletic Friday when the Rockets beat the Nets. And he added, “He’s extremely prepared.”

“I think he has a good clear understanding of how he wants to play and what he expects. He’s good with players, he’ll work them out and develop relationships and they respect him and he’s just a good coach in whatever he does,” added D’Antoni. “The team plays well, they have great vision, they know what they wanna do and I just think he’ll be very successful.”

But of course, it always comes down to the talent, the horses that drive the team’s ambitions.

“They’ve got some players they’re developing,” D’Antoni said of Atkinson and his Nets. “Now, you still have to get a free agent, you still have to get a good draft pick, whatever, you’ve still gotta get those elite players, but he has a bunch of good players that do exactly what he wants and play good basketball.”