Kenny Atkinson knows how lucky he is. He’s coming off a surprising playoff run and got a two-year contract extension. In July, of course, he got the best gift a coach could get, two superstars to coach at the peak of their careers.
And Kenny being Kenny, then he got nervous.
“Oh wow. How am I going to coach these guys? This is going to be different …” he told the Post’s Mike Vaccaro.
But he is clearly buoyed by his history as a player and a coach.
“I always felt like I got along with every guy on every team I’ve been a part with, whether you’re the 17th guy or the first guy,” Atkinson told Vaccaro. “I can’t change who I am, because the guys will spot that right away. You have to be yourself. And even once I realized that we were getting some incredible players, that’s what I knew. I had to be true to who I am...
He also had to be buoyed by the fact that both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving cited his coaching skills and, in KD’s words, how “genuine” he looks in his interviews, pre- and post-game. Atkinson noted it wasn’t just his style that attracted the superstars.
“It says a lot about word of mouth, too,” Atkinson says. “It’s a player’s league, and the players in the league talk to each other. So when a Joe Harris talks about what we’re building here, or a Spencer Dinwiddie, other players listen to that. They hear that. And those are conversations that helped us, too.”
Atkinson also recounted the moment when he finally realized that he’d be KD and Kyrie’s coach.
Sometime that day, the news would leak somehow, somewhere, and some coach was going to be given one of the great gifts of all time: a generational talent, entrusting the rest of his prime years to his hands.
Atkinson figured: That’s going to be one lucky coach.
“We didn’t have any special heads-up, so I was in the dark,” Atkinson says. “I’ve been in this before with other teams when I was an assistant and I’ve seen it go the other way so many times. So I was pretty skeptical. I wasn’t a believer until …”
He laughs. “Until I heard it.”
That moment never gets old.
Vaccaro says that while there will be some pressure on him, the KD-Kyrie bonanza is a long term play. Atkinson has time with the expectation that Durant will be out for the year.
“It’s really a perfect piece of timing,” Atkinson said. “Can you imagine if this had happened when I first got the job? Instead it feels like the right place and the right time for me, and for all of the guys. We’re ready to keep building this thing...
“All you ever ask for as a coach is to be able to coach good players,” he says. “What can a guy like me ask for that’s better than this?”
- Inside Kenny Atkinson’s mind amid high Nets expectations - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post