Brooklyn Boro

Nets must practice what they preach

Patient Approach Should Give Atkinston Time to Build a Winner

April 20, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Long Island native Kenny Atkinson will be the sixth head coach of the Nets since their move into Brooklyn back in 2012. That is, once the Atlanta Hawks are eliminated from the ongoing NBA playoffs. AP photo
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Head coach No. 6 of the Brooklyn era figures to be around a lot longer than the first five, especially if Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov sticks to his latest “blueprint.”

Long Island native Kenny Atkinson, currently employed as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks, was hired to replace interim head coach Tony Brown over the weekend, meaning he’ll be the man in charge of rebuilding a team that went 21-61 in Year Four of the Downtown era following three straight playoff appearances upon the franchise’s arrival here.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, as per team policy, but Atkinston, entering his first NBA head-coaching stint, should be on Prokhorov’s ample payroll for several seasons to come.

“I’d like to extend a personal welcome to Kenny and wish all of us success as we begin a new era at the Brooklyn Nets,” Prokhorov said in Sunday’s team-issued statement announcing the hiring.

“Aside from his tremendous skills and experience, he has the mindset we need to build a winning team day by day, step by step,” Prokhorov added. “Together, we can do great things.”

Great things in the NBA can take time, as Prokhorov has doubtlessly learned during his first six years at the helm.

Though he came into the league with a bold bravado, declaring the Nets would hoist a championship banner within his first five years on the job, he has more recently indicated that our borough’s NBA franchise must take a subtler approach to creating a title-winning culture.

That shift in attitude was likely prompted by the Nets’ exorbitant payrolls, paralyzing trades resulting in a lack of first-round draft picks until 2019, and the team’s shortcomings in the postseason under King and head coaches Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Brown.

“You know, our approach helped us to reach three playoffs in a row, but we have failed to go further,” Prokhorov ceded back in January, when he announced the firing of Hollins and the “reassignment” of general manager Billy King.

“I can share with you what my strategy is,” the former Russian presidential candidate added that day. “I want us to have a much firmer blueprint of what kind of players we are looking for, and why. I line with strategic balance, developed with a new coach and with a new GM. So I think we need to have a sense of identity and style of play.”

Enter new GM Sean Marks via San Antonio and Atkinston, who will get here for his formal introduction once the Hawks are eliminated from the playoffs — Atlanta currently leads its best-of-7 first-round playoff series with Boston two games to none.

These two men will be joined at the hip for the foreseeable future, if, of course, Prokhorov has truly changed his ways following the firing of five coaches during the franchise’s first four years in Brooklyn.

Marks hired Atkinston, known as one of the league’s top player-development gurus, to get the most he could out of a limited talent pool.

Though the Nets will have upwards of $40 million in salary cap room to play with this summer, their lack of a first-round pick and a roster of unproven young players, coupled with alleged “foundation pieces” Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, will likely make them less attractive to big-time free agents eager to win a title sooner than later.

That’s where Kenny from Huntington comes in.

Atkinson will be asked to continue developing the organization’s youth until Marks figures out a way to get the Nets back into the top half of the draft, most likely via a trade, either this coming June or perhaps next season prior to the February deadline.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be named the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and I would like to thank Nets’ ownership and management for this tremendous opportunity,” Atkinson said. 

“Together with Sean and his staff, we look forward to building a winning tradition here in Brooklyn.”

Marks, also a neophyte as a first-time GM, will be banking on Atkinston’s acumen as a teacher.

The former Knicks assistant coach and director of player development in Houston has earned praise from players throughout the NBA for taking what’s good and making it significantly better.

Now, he’ll have to take what’s bad about the Nets and try to make it at least watchable next season.

“We are thrilled to announce Kenny Atkinson as our new head coach and to welcome him and his family to Brooklyn,” gushed Marks. “Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer [in Atlanta] and Mike D’Antoni [in New York] have provided him with the foundation and experience we were looking for in a head coach.

“We believe that Kenny’s core principles, leadership, communication skills and exceptional background in player development make him an ideal fit for the culture we are building in Brooklyn.”

That new culture of patience will begin as soon as Atkinson’s Hawks get sent home, either this month, or next, or the one after that.

Until then, the Nets, and their fan base, will have to get used to “Waiting for Greatness.”

That “blueprint” certainly doesn’t sound as sexy as the original draft, but it may pay off for Prokhorov in the long run.

If, in fact, he actually practices what he preaches.

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