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Atkinson calls it like it is, but remains positive through adversity

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets have lost 12-of-13, their worst stretch of the season.

But Kenny Atkinson has been through this before, more than once, just a year ago.

Between January 21 and February 25 of last year, the Nets went 0-16. Between December 28 and January 17, they endured an 11-game losing streak. After starting the season 4-5, they lost seven in a row, a skid which grew into a 5-42 record they brought into last season’s All-Star Break.

This team is better and their head coach is habitually optimistic by nature, for better or for worst. Still, the losses are mounting. He insists that everyone around has got to stay positive, and they do, starting with him, but that doesn’t make it any easier to navigate through during adversity-filled endeavors, also known as losses.

“We went through it last year, unfortunately, you’ve just got to call it what it is, we’re in a downward trend right now and I think it’s so important that we get it back going this way,” he said, pointing upward. “I felt like it was trending that way most of the year, we’ve had a lot of good stretches, but we’ve hit this skid – I think there’s stuff; we’ve changed some things and some new guys, some injured, but listen, those aren’t excuses. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to finish this season going up.”

Adversity builds and/or destroys character. So perhaps this is a time where Atkinson may learn some things about himself, the coach, given that the Nets actually entered this season with some expectations. Not a lot, but indisputably more than last year. The bar for 2017-18 was raised, even though it was just by a bit, then lowered as first Jeremy Lin went down for the season and D’Angelo Russell for two months.

Atkinson acknowledged this in practice, citing that the team is “a little more talented than last year.”

“I’ve said that, we’re better, that’s what’s frustrating,” he said. “We’re on pace for a 30-something win season and then we hit this skid and it’s like, man – I’m optimistic, I’m hungry to get back on track. Now, that being said, we’ve got a tough schedule coming up, we’re going to be on the road awhile, but it’s great.

“I look at it two ways; you could look at it like ‘oh shit, it’s going bad’ or like ‘man, this is a great opportunity to develop as a coach to see if we could get over this hump. I think it’s a challenge. I do think that as we get our whole roster back, I think Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) and Caris (LeVert) coming back into the fold is going to help us a lot. I think adding Dante (Cunningham) to the mix, who really doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s playing pretty well. He’s what we needed.”

DeMarre Carroll has seen this before too, even with Atkinson during their Atlanta days, where Atkinson was an assistant from 2012-2016, and where Carroll played from 2013-2015.

While we vividly remember the 60-win team from 2014-2015 that became “Spurs East” and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, Carroll noted that nobody remembers the tumultuous previous season, his first in A-Town, when the Hawks went 38-44, and lost eight straight at one point.

“People never remember that. People only remember the games you win,” pointed out Carroll. “Kenny’s seen this before, and like we always say, laugh and joke when we’re discussing it, winning solves everything. Once we start winning, we can throw a few more wins in our column and hopefully do better than we did last year. People don’t remember when you lose eight or nine in a row.”

On Atkinson, Carroll’s sort of his running buddy by nature, he says that throughout all of the distress, he never changes. That’s a far cry from his predecessor, Lionel Hollins, who Mikhail Prokhorov had to tell to lay off the public criticism of his players.

“He always keeps a positive mindset,” Carroll said of his head coach. “He knows we’re right there. We got to break through it. We’ve got 22 games left, we want to try to build. Especially going into next year, we want to build. Get guys back healthy. Get guys playing with each other – we’ve had so many injuries this year. A lot of adversity, if we get everybody back and everyone on the same page, it will be key for us and going into next year.”

The Nets are hopeful that, with three days until they resume action on Monday against the Chicago Bulls, Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert will return, if not then, soon.

But again, no excuses. As Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.”