Kenny Atkinson’s father was a marine. He grew up the second youngest out of eight competitive brothers. Toughness isn’t something he just picked up. It’s in his DNA.
Atkinson was fined $25,000 on Saturday after he was ejected Friday night against the Indiana Pacers. He looked like he was ready to explode as the Nets were on the wrong end of two “incorrect” calls on the Last Two Minute report.
“We play for a hard-nosed coach and we kind of follow his temperament. He’s definitely got a little chip on his shoulder like the rest of us,” said Joe Harris.
“You want your coach to have your back, and he took those two techs. Now you know you have someone in your corner fighting for you,” Jared Dudley said after the game.
The Nets have that respect for reasons fans don’t necessarily see: Things like accountability and checking egos at the door — from the ball boys to the players. It’s part of the culture.
“You could talk to everybody in this locker room, we all have a lot of respect for Kenny just because he holds everybody to the same standard,” said Harris, who’s become the ultimate poster boy for Atkinson’s development program. “He’s tough on everybody 1 through 15.
“He’s tough on the ball boys, he’s tough on the assistant coaches, he’s tough on everybody. He’s just a tough guy and he has a level of respect in this locker room and we all know that he has our back, obviously he showed just the passion of the moment he really got fired up… for us.”
Indeed. It was Atkinson’s second ejection in 198 games as a head coach. Both came in electrifying fashion, to say the least. In January, he had to be restrained from rushing the refs in a game at Minnesota.
“We’re fighting for him and he’s fighting for us. He did what was right and how he felt and we all respect it. It wasn’t for show or anything like that, so we can’t do anything but respect it,” said Ed Davis.
“He’s definitely a tough dude and he gets on everybody 1 through 15, where in this league guys get treated different based on salaries or position or whatever and it’s not like that with him, so I appreciate that.”
‘Guys get treated different based on salaries or position...’
It’s something that’s defined who he is as a coach, for better or for worse. Spencer Dinwiddie signed a 3-year deal worth $34 million. Does that mean he’s automatically in the starting lineup? No. D’Angelo Russell is currently the team’s leading scorer with Caris LeVert out, but if he’s having a bad game is he set in stone to play the last five minutes of the fourth? No.
Even Nets’ minority owner —and future principal owner, Joe Tsai, showed his coach respect with how he handled things after the game.
Great teaching moment from Coach Atkinson: don’t worry about the refs, focus on defense, do the little things to get better for the next game https://t.co/UhCdRrYsz8— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) December 22, 2018
So, whether you agree with his tactics or not, his players respect him for these type of things. And as a coach, respect from your players is one of the most important things you can get especially when you need them to believe in the process.
And that matters.