According to reports Monday night, Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and his staff are finalizing extensions to keep them with the organization.
In April 2016, Kenny Atkinson took on one of the most daunting coaching openings in the NBA when he signed a four-year contract to oversee the rebuild of the Brooklyn Nets.
Now in his third season, without the benefit of the lottery picks a rebuilding team should have had, Atkinson has the Nets in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, leading a group of castoffs and projects to a 39-39 record and seventh place in the East.
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On Monday night, ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Nets were closing in on deals to extend the contracts not just for Atkinson, but also his coaching staff.
The 51-year-old Atkinson developed a reputation as an assistant coach for his ability to mold point guards — having been one himself for more than a decade in European professional leagues.
Since coming to Brooklyn, Atkinson has been are the forefront of the development of newly minted All-Star D’Angelo Russell as well as Sixth Man of the Year candidate Spencer Dinwiddie and also helped Caris LeVert polish his floor leadership abilities.
Atkinson is on the short list of contenders for NBA Coach of the Year honors this season, as Brooklyn’s 11-win improvement over last season is among the top turnarounds in the league.
The Milwaukee Bucks have 14 more wins than a season ago, while the Orlando Magic are 13 wins ahead of where they finished in 2017-18. Next on the list are the Nets and Sacramento Kings at plus-11 in the win column.
Mike Budenholzer, in his first year with the Bucks, is considered the favorite for the award after helping Milwaukee from lower-tier playoff team to the NBA’s best record.
But if Budenholzer had a vote, it would go to his former assistant in Atlanta, who told Brian Lewis of the New York Post that Atkinson has done the best job.
"“I’d love for Kenny to be Coach of the Year. I think he’s very deserving. What he’s done here in the two or three years it’s been — the culture, the way they compete, the way they play both ends of the court — he’s incredibly deserving.“I love watching his teams play. I’m a big believer in Kenny. I learned a ton from him. … He’s got a passion for the game, he’s got a feel for the game. I think his players feel it and sense it.”"
Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, who has an NBA championship ring as a head coach, is also a big Atkinson fan.
"“They have elite coaching. He’s one of the most respected coaches in our business because of the task he undertook a few years ago.”"
That task? Take over a team that was coming off a 21-win season, had no future draft picks available because of an ill-fated trade by the former general manager and had no continuity or culture after a revolving door of six head coaches over a four-year span.
The roster has been almost completely turned over, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson the only player remaining from the club Atkinson inherited in 2016.
The Nets won 20 games in Atkinson’s first season, improved to 28 victories last season and are a .500 club this year.
That is despite a roster that is notably short on big-name talent. Outside of Russell and veteran backup center Ed Davis, there are no former lottery picks in Brooklyn.
Russell came as part of a salary dump as the incentive for the Nets taking on Timofey Mozgov‘s egregious contract from the Los Angeles Lakers.
DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley arrived as salary dumps and stayed as contributing veterans, with the draft picks that turned into All-Rookie candidate Rodions Kurucs and development project Dzanan Musa coming as the sweetener for taking on Carroll’s deal.
Davis and Shabazz Napier were bargains as unrestricted free agents.
Atkinson and his staff — former Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn along with Bret Brielmaier, Chris Fleming, Jordan Ott and Pablo Prigioni and player development coaches Adam Harrington and Travon Bryant — have turned that eclectic group into a team that always competes.
In year three, Atkinson has this team on the verge of a playoff berth, which has to be considered ahead of schedule.
An extension? That’s a no-brainer. The Long Island native has earned it several times over.