The Nets introduced their new Head Coach, Kenny Atkinson, on Monday at their training center in Industry City.
Atkinson is a Long Island native who recently was an assistant coach with he Atlanta Hawks, and prior to that, with the Knicks and Houston Rockets.
General Manager Sean Marks chose Atkinson for many reasons, one of which is his work with player development.
Marks and Atkinson will install a system for how they they will play, how the players conduct themselves, and set a winning attitude.
This is something that has eluded the Nets for most of their history, especially in their time in Brooklyn, Atkinson is the sixth coach at the helm since they moved here in 2012, and 21st in their franchise’s history.
Unlike the reign of Billy King, which was predicated on the quick fix in order to win now, Marks and Atkinson are in for the long haul.
The Nets are going to build around Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, and they have some young players with the potential to blossom. Four of those building blocks were at the press conference on Monday, Chris McCullough, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sean Kilpatrick, and Markel Brown.
Atkinson said of his vision for the Nets, “Build patiently, intelligently, and from my standpoint, the message that these guys are going to be hearing is that we’re going to put a competitive group, first and foremost, on the floor. You say, well, everybody’s competitive in the NBA, but to be able to do it 82 games, night after night, minute after minute, play by play, and that’s a heck of a challenge, even for NBA players. That’s going to be first and foremost, a group that Brooklyn fans, after they watch a game, and they’re looking, they will say, ‘that’s a competitive group, that group competes.’
“I think the second value is a group that shares the ball and plays together, both offensively and defensively. Playing as a team, we’re going to have to do this as a group. I would say, thirdly, a group that has high character, that’s gonna be great with the fans, you’re going to have an experience with Thad Young and Sean Kilpatrick, these are good guys, these are high character guys, they play with great spirit and great integrity. Those, to me, without getting too basketball-specific, those are big-picture ideas,” said Atkinson.
Marks said of hiring Atkinson, “After a long, diverse, extensive search, we looked at many, many candidates, all of whom were at the top of their field around the world, and found one guy that met that criteria, and that’s Kenny Atkinson.
“Kenny has been one of the most respected coaches around the league for a while now working as an assistant coach with New York (Knicks) and, also lately, with the Atlanta Hawks and the two great coaches there. He’s always been known for his player development and what he’s done developing players and the time he spent developing relationships with those guys. Although player development’s part of what stood out, it was more than just that. It’s what Kenny brought to the table. It was his character, his values, and perhaps above all else, his passion for the job. So, after long discussions, me, ownership, we knew that Kenny met that criteria, easily, quickly, and leaps and bounds.”
Atkinson said of Marks, “I’d like to thank Sean for having the faith in me. I’ve known Sean over the years. We’ve had long discussions during this interview process. I’ve really felt like Sean is someone I could form a partnership with, someone I could collaborate with, someone I could trust. That made me excited, and that really made me aggressive in pursuing this job. This is a guy I’d love to work with on a daily basis, be in the trenches with, excited to go forward and work with Sean building an exciting Brooklyn Nets team, build a sustainable club that will be patient, but looking to improve over the long term.
“I’d also like to acknowledge the Brooklyn Nets players that are here. Almost all of them were in here working this morning, young players, Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), Sean (Kilpatrick), Chris (McCullough), Markel (Brown), my guy Thaddeus Young, he wasn’t in here this morning, he’ll be in here soon, 6 a.m. tomorrow Thaddeus.
“I’m excited, I’m excited to be working with a young, talented group of players, and also some pretty good veterans in Thaddeus (Young) and Brook (Lopez). By the way, Brook couldn’t be here today, I spoke with him yesterday, been speaking with him the past couple weeks about the organization, what we’re going to try to accomplish here and I’m excited for him to lead this going forward. A guy like Thaddeus is an established player in the NBA, an excellent player.
“Two great guys to follow, and some young talent, that’s a great start. The next thing, I think, what’s important to me and Sean is forming a strong staff.”
Atkinson then announced that the Nets have hired Jacque Vaughn, who played in the NBA for 12 seasons, including a stint with the New Jersey Nets from 2004 to 2006. He was the coach of the Orlando Magic from 2012 to 2015. Vaughn also was an assistant coach in San Antonio from 2010 to 2012, so Marks is familiar with his work.
“We’re gonna bring in good people that are going to help our players become better, help our team become better, help this organization improve,” said Atkinson. “So, when he told me Jacque Vaughn was available as an assistant coach, I kind of jumped on the phone and said, man, this is a guy that played 12 years in the NBA, recently head coach of the Orlando Magic, so I got on the phone and said, ‘Jacque, you’re coming,’ and took him a couple of days to get back to me. I’m thrilled to add him to the staff. As we add more people to our staff, I’m excited about that, I’m excited about having a great staff.
“I’d also like to thank the Atlanta Hawks organization, you know, Tony Ressler, the owner; Mike Budenholzer, the vice president and coach; Wes Wilcox, the GM; just a great experience there, first-class organization, treated my family and me great. It’s a big part of the reason I’m sitting here, so I’m going to miss them and thankful for having worked there.”
Atkinson said of what he thought of the Nets during the interview process, “I was very impressed with their presentation, their presence, their understanding of what Sean and his group is trying to build here. I can’t tell you the exact timeline of all that, it’s a little blurry because we were in the playoffs with the Hawks. Let’s say, for an interview process, it couldn’t not have been more pleasant and revealing.”
Marks said of what differentiated Atkinson and made him the guy to hire, “It was, obviously, we talk about his passion for the job. It was the person he is, high character, and the values that he has. The first time I met Kenny, I think, was about five years ago, in San Antonio, where the Atlanta Hawks sent a contingent over to San Antonio to get some work in during the summer. I saw him work first-hand, the relationships he had formed with the guys on this team and was forming with Spurs players, helping to get those guys to develop and do things that he asked, pretty remarkable to me.
“It was pretty clear cut, it’s not often you get your ‘number one’ guy, but glad to be working together, and glad Kenny is that guy,” said Marks.
On wanting to model the Nets on the Spurs, where Marks served as assistant coach and assistant GM before coming to Brooklyn, Atkinson said, “Definitely, but it’s going to be different. With the Hawks, we took a lot of what Mike Budenholzer learned from the Spurs (when he was an assistant coach there) and, we, it was a different market and a different situation, we changed a fair amount of things, I think Coach Budenholzer would say that. I think it’s similar here, I would love to, knowing Sean and observing the Spurs and then being with the Hawks for four years where we did things a little differently, so I think it’s going to be a combination of both of them.
“Quite honestly, from my personal experience with the Rockets, Knicks, I have other influences, so, so far, it’s going to be figuring all that out and putting it all together, but I’m confident we can do it.”
Marks said of the Spurs influence on what they will build in Brooklyn, “I totally agree with what Kenny said. We’re lucky to have these models in our lives, obviously can look back at the Spurs as one of them, and you look at Atlanta and the rest of his mentors that he’s looked at and touched on around the league.
“This isn’t San Antonio, this isn’t Atlanta, this is Brooklyn, and we’ll do our best to make it our own. As I said plenty of times, you can place a lot of the values and so forth that we’ve grown up and learned from in our various lives before here,” said Marks.
Atkinson credited those that helped him in his formative years growing up on Long Island, and leading him to this point.
“My coaching tree, that’s a big reason I’m here, and the people I’ve been around, the mentors, the coaches from my high school years, my NBA career as a coach, it’s really what forms who you, who you are as a coach.
“Gus Alfieri, St. Anthony’s High School, legendary high school coach, couple of state championships, accomplished author, got two books now. Really, it’s where I learned the game, the fundamentals of the game. I am thankful having played for you, and thankful you could made the trek in, I know how tough that is, the L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway) and all that.
“My college coach, Dick Tarrant, couldn’t be here, local New Jersey guy, created a great program down at the University of Richmond, Many NCAA Tournament upsets. Good mentor, a guy I still talk to, he’s 88 years old, unfortunately he couldn’t be here today, but he was a big part of just my development as a player, and then just watching him coach. He taught me about leadership and discipline, and playing together as a team. Coach, thinking about you today.
“Now, I’m gonna go to my pro (influences), this’ll be a little less emotional. Rick Adelman, I think he’s third all-time leading wins in the NBA. Rick, I learned a lot from, we had an excellent team in Houston. He taught me the corner offense that he had, that he ran in Sacramento and Houston. Excellent defensive coach, excellent all-around coach, and a fantastic person, so I’d like to thank him.
“Next person, Mike D’Antoni, who I was with, with the Knicks. Mike, as many of us know here, changed a lot in the NBA, changes the style of play, changed the way the game’s played, his international background. I learned so much from him, and a guy that thought out of the box, thinks out of the box, great coach and appreciated my time with him.
“Lastly, but not least, I thank Mike Budenholzer from the Hawks, fantastic coach, first-class person, really taught me about building a program, building a culture on and off the court, so thanks Coach.
“Last, but not least, my family, my two kids, my wife, my seven brothers, I think they heard there was free food here today, so that’s the reason they’re here. My mother, who raised eight boys, she should be having her press conference here. She’s the real deal, real reason, you know how tough it is to raise eight kids, especially eight boys. So, mom, good job, we will be seeing you on the LIRR coming into games, and looking forward to that,” said Atkinson.