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Kenny Atkinson talks free agents, DLo, tanking and this year’s goals

New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In his first media appearance since the Nets introduced their two rookies the day after the Draft, Kenny Atkinson told ESPN’s Michael Kay about the Nets plans for next season and next summer, agreeing with Kay that the Nets have to “dream big” in recruiting star free agents.

Atkinson also spoke about the commitment the Nets own star, D’Angelo Russell, has shown this summer and how he wants to be great.

“I think you have to dream big, Michael,” said Atkinson, talking about next summer. “You have to dream big. It’s a little bit on us, how we do this year ... the word around the league. Players they talk to each other, ‘What’s it like in Brooklyn? How do they treat you? How do they treat their families? What are the fans like? What’s the Barclays Center like?’ I think we have all those things in our favor. Players talk and I think they will seriously consider us.

Kay noted other advantages the Nets have in Barclays Center, the HSS Training Center which Kay described as “top-of-the-line awesome and that Atkinson has a reputation as a “players’ coach.” Does Atkinson think all that will effect players’ decisions?

“I hope so,” Atkinson replied, adding another advantage. “And we’re in the great city of New York and Brooklyn is a special place.”

“I just think that through word-of-mouth, players talking to each other, and agents are a big part of this as well, obviously,” Atkinson concluded, noting that the Nets big success stories, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie, are part of the pitch as well.

In talking about DLo, Atkinson spoke about what he’s been up to this summer.

“He’s a talented guy, Michael,” said Atkinson, talking about Russell’s skills. “He’s got great court vision, incredible hand-eye coordination, really understands the game.”

When Kay interjected and asked if Russell “wants to be great,” Atkinson assured him DLo does.

“He wants to be great. He’s been in our gym all summer, ALL summer,” said the head coach. “You know in the NBA, it’s not an obligation. You have to want to be there. So he’s been there. He’s really been working on his body. He’s got to make some strides there. He’s got to get stronger. He’s needs to work on his explosiveness a little bit but he’s proven it to me being there every day in the off-season.”

In talking about the team’s off-season acquisitions, Atkinson mentioned how Kenneth Faried had great seasons in Denver, that Ed Davis will bring toughness upfront and that Nets scouts saw Shabazz Napier as the “X-factor” in the Trail Blazers offense.

As for next season, Atkinson said the Nets would be happy to see another 8- to-10 win jump from last year’s 28 victories. But he doesn’t dismiss the possibility of something bigger.

“That’s the dream, right, the quantum leap?’’ Atkinson said. “I think that’s the big goal in the sky. But we’ve been making solid steps, solid improvement. So I’d be happy with that, too.

“Our players see that [the quantum leap] is a possibility. But I do think we have to come to it from a humble way, too. We only won 28 games last year. Eight-game improvement, which is good. It’s hard in the NBA. But, listen, I’d take another eight- to 10-game improvement. That’d be fantastic.”

Although Atkinson said tanking might be something “upper, upper management” probably discusses, it’s not something he and Sean Marks talk about.

“We’ve never talked about tanking, Sean and I,’’ Atkinson said. “I’m just going to be honest: Internally, we don’t use the word. We don’t talk about it.

“We talk about internal improvement, we talk about player development, we talk about culture. Tanking is not a word we use. It’s just not in our [vocabulary]. I don’t think the fans in New York want to see that.

Thanks to ND poster @BillyReinhardt for keeping us up to date.