Kyle Korver recalled that when he was a free agent, the shooter wasn’t sure about the direction of the Hawks franchise and the turnover on the coaching staff, but that when Atkinson said he was returning, Korver knew things would be fine in Atlanta.
And Kent Bazemore gushed about Atkinson’s mastery of the pick and roll and his ability to communicate with players and simplify things the way a great point guard can for many teams.
One day after the Nets hired Atkinson to become their head coach, Hawks players unanimously said Atkinson is a great hire for Brooklyn. In fact, Hawks players who talked to the media on Monday were genuinely thrilled for Atkinson and it showed when they were asked about it.
“My guy!” Teague said when asked about Atkinson after Hawks practice on Monday. “That is the best news you guys gave me today ... I have been with him for a while now and all the work he does with me personally, the late nights, the early mornings, to get an opportunity to be a head coach, he deserves it.
“[He’s] a worker, he is someone who knows the game inside and out,” Teague continued. “Someone that loves the game. He really loves basketball. He is always in the gym, first one here every day. He wants to win. He is going to bring a different culture to Brooklyn. They are lucky to get a guy like him.”
With limited resources, since the Nets don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019, Nets general manager Sean Marks has a long, arduous rebuild ahead of him.
So instead of hiring a big, flashy name at coach, the Nets went with a longtime assistant who comes with a stellar reputation for player development and being able to relate to and communicate with his players.
Marks has a close relationship with Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer from their days together in San Antonio, so Marks knows what he is getting in Atkinson.
“Kenny has a great feel and great knowledge for the game," Budenholzer said. "Those two things are not always synonymous. The feel is sometimes more subtle, more hard to find. And then he has a way of connecting. So when you are talking about player development, you got to understand the game and be able to feel it, and then got to be able to communicate it and connect with players.
“He has done that at a high level the whole time we have been here. Player development is a huge part of what we do ... When you become a head coach, that feel, that understanding and ability to take concepts and incorporate it into team concepts and individual, he is gifted that way.”
Bazemore credits Atkinson with helping him get better at pick and rolls in the Atlanta offense. And Atkinson carries a contagious energy, according to Hawks players.
Even on the day after he was hired to become a head coach, Atkinson -- who is expected to speak to the media when he is introduced as Nets coach -- enthusiastically ran backup point guard Kirk Hinrich through shooting drills long after practice was over.
“He always has this good aura and swagger about himself,” Bazemore said. “Even just how he walks around, he still stays in shape, he is out here warming up barefoot, doing push-ups. He is just as into it as we are, and he was a point guard and point guards are special. They are the kind of people you don’t come by a lot in the game of basketball. As far as how you know they can translate it from the court to off the court and put it into certain words for you so you understand. He is very good at that.
“And his workouts, a lot of ball-handling stuff, a lot of pick-and-roll stuff, which is what you need to survive in this league,” Bazemore continued. “If you can’t run pick and roll as a wing it is going to be tough for you. He has one of the most integral parts of the offense, pick and roll, down to a T.”
Korver couldn’t overstate just how good a person and coach the Nets are getting.
“He has been awesome for us here in Atlanta,” Korver said of Atkinson, a former Knicks assistant who is from New York. “I think our player development has been second to none the last four years. I think it has been amazing watching guys develop and grow and Kenny leads that.
“He’s going to be a great coach,” Korver added. “He’s got a great mindset. He is really detailed and understands culture. [The Nets] are in a tough spot where they don’t have draft picks. It is a tough scenario to walk into, but what they are trying to do is establish player development and a great culture and Sean Marks was in San Antonio and they are going to try to do that. Kenny is the right person for that job.”