The Brooklyn Nets were not going to land one of the big-name coaches — your Tom Thibodeaus, Scott Brooks, etc. — for what will be the most challenging rebuild project in the NBA. They needed to go with the smart, rising assistant coach who understands how to develop players and a culture.
Enter Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson, the lead assistant to Mike Budenholzer. He’s got the job, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and soon confirmed by the team itself. From Wojnarowski:
Nets general manager Sean Marks met with several candidates in recent weeks, but had long targeted Atkinson for the Nets job, sources said. Negotiations took place over the past several days and culminated with an agreement this weekend.
“We are thrilled to announce Kenny Atkinson as our new head coach and to welcome him and his family to Brooklyn,” Marks said in a released statement. “Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni 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.”
Atkinson will stay with the Hawks through the end of that team’s playoff run before jumping to Brooklyn (the Hawks are up 1-0 against the Celtics in the first round).
“I’m very happy for Kenny and excited that he’s earned the opportunity to be a head coach,” Budenholzer said in a statement. “His competitiveness, knowledge and feel for the game, and passion for player development are all at a high level and will serve him well as a head coach. With him and Sean in place, the Nets have a very strong foundation to build on.”
This is a San Antonio connection — Marks was an assistant GM and assistant coach with the Spurs before taking over the Brooklyn job. Budenholzer was a long-time Spurs assistant who has brought that philosophy to Atlanta, something Atkinson has been steeped in. Atkinson worked for a year under Rick Adelman in Houston, then spent four years in New York as an assistant coach under D’Antonio — where he was seen as the assistant coach who made Linsanity happen — before joining Budenholzer in Atlanta four years ago.
Hiring Atkinson is a good move, in part because he is well-respected around the league and is the kind of assistant coach who deserves a shot.
More importantly, this hire is a sign the Nets have moved on from the quick-fix philosophy — this is a “we’re developing slowly and the right way for the long haul” hire. Which is exactly what the Nets should do. Sean Marks is doing things the right way so far.