First-time head coach Kenny Atkinson may only have two preseason games under his belt with the Nets, however, it’s become more clear why he was chosen for the job.
In their preseason opener, new Nets point guard Jeremy Lin dropped 21 points in 17 minutes to help lead the Nets to victory. The stage seemed to be set perfectly for Brooklyn’s next game against the New York Knicks, Lin’s former team.
Watching Lin go up against the team that helped put him on the map as a global phenom is great for the fans and, yes, even the media.
But for a new head coach, it’s all about controlling the message. Saturday night, the Nets left Madison Square Garden with a 116-98 loss at the hands of the Knicks. Lin did not play, he was given the night off by Atkinson.
Leading up to the game there was talk centering around comments made by Knicks star Carmelo Anthony about Brooklyn’s decision to sign Lin to a three-year deal worth $38 million.
“He is the face of the franchise, believe it or not,” said Anthony. They paid him, and now he has the ball in his hands. So now he’s one of the franchise players over there.”
These two teams will play one more time at Barclays Center, in the preseason finale for Brooklyn.
It was the “believe it or not” part of those comments which caught everyone’s attention. It could be perceived as Anthony being surprised at the contract Lin was able to secure. Or not.
If it was or wasn’t, and Lin did downplay the comments as no big deal and no harm caused, it was still enough to add to the subplot when Lin suits up to play against the Knicks, but this time as a leader for the crosstown rivals.
Atkinson could’ve fed into the theatrics and played Lin, however he showed there’s a bigger picture at stake and it’s not just about one player.
“It was completely based on wanting to see other guys play,” said Atkinson. “Each guy has an individual plan. This is part of our plan.”
Lin’s spot on the team is already secure, the same can’t be said for a handful of players fighting for roster spots. These preseason games are for helping determine which players get those spots, there’s little to no room to entertain past drama.
Atkinson, and first-year general manager Sean Marks, have preached team development as the backbone of their plan to help rebuild the Nets. It’s not going to be about one or two players here, it’s going to be about the team and creating a winning culture based on team play.
Situations, such as this, can be challenging for coaches when keeping the bigger picture in mind. Atkinson, by choosing to stick to his game plan also showed his ability to control the message he wants to send. It’s about the team first and foremost.
There will be a time and place for the Lin-Anthony-Knicks subplot to take center stage and that’ll most likely be during the regular season when the games count.
Kudos to Atkinson for realizing this and continuing to show why the Nets feel he’s the right voice for the job.