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Brooklyn Nets Q and A: Kenny Atkinson

The Nets head coach weighs in on the season so far and what he’s learned since taking the job

Kenny Atkinson has been with the Nets for almost two years and his impact on the team has been obvious.

Brooklyn has doubled its win total from this point of the season going from 9 to 19 wins. There’s also been substantial improvement from several players, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert. Those four players have been key contributors this season and represent the type of players that the Nets want to build around: Hard-working, versatile and having something to prove.

Atkinson insists he’s not satisfied with where the team currently is -- even if he is proud of the growth of his players since his arrival. In a one-on-one sit-down with BrooklynNets.com, he discussed his thoughts on this season so far and what his expectations are moving forward among several topics.

Here is What He Had to Say:

[Note: some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity purposes]

If you could sum up this season in one word, what it would be and why?

Improvement. Gradual improvement – [it’s] product of the work we’ve done, that we’ve put in over a year and a half since Sean [Marks] and I have been here. The caveat is we’re not satisfied; we want to keep pushing. We keep saying we have a finger through the ceiling, we’re trying to punch a fist. We haven’t gotten a fist through yet.

What are the expectations for the remainder of the season?

I think it’s the same thing. It’s like what we did last year – we were really good after the All-Star break. Let’s continue to make money before the All-Star break. Teams start to get tired now, they start to get distracted now – All-Star break is coming. Our goal is to remain focused and try to steal some games during this time where teams can get tired or focused -- we don’t have that luxury; we have to be locked in. Our guys, I feel that they are.

It’s funny that you mention that because the Nets are currently leading the league in close games, it just shows how hard you are working...

Yeah…We’ve been rewarded a few times in winning those games and also have lost some. So it’s a learning phase, these tight games that we’re in. They always say the hardest thing in professional sports is to close out games, so we’re learning that I think. It’s not just the players, it’s the coaches too.

Making the right decisions, the right substitutions, calling the right play. We’re in a flight simulator man and we’re getting a lot of reps, which is good.

You’ve mentioned learning, what have you learned as a head coach during your first two seasons so far?

I’ve learned a lot about myself. How to coach through adversity, how to stay positive when things aren’t going right. How to manage stress. How to manage just balancing everything: Life, family, head coaching, keeping my body [in shape], getting sleep – all of that. That’s been a hell of a task. Managing a big group, we’ve got a big staff – that’s been a big challenge. It’s really helping me, forget growing as a head coach, [it has helped me] grow as a person. I’ve become more well-rounded because of this role.

What do you specifically do to handle the stress of being a head coach?

There’s two things I do. I work out – that’s my therapy and then family. Those are like the two things that are like my safe keys, if I want to feel good. There’s a certain point where you can only look at so much film, a certain point where you have to knock it off and that’s the balance I’m talking about. I feel it’s something that I’ve gotten better at.

Is that something you’ve done since you’ve started or did that take a while to figure out?

It took me a while. I think by the end of last…by the All-Star break, I started to understand that balance. It’s helped me come into this season with a better routine, better balance.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve been proud of this season?

Seeing guys improve…individually. Joe, Spencer…everybody. Caris is getting better, Rondae has made a huge jump. That’s when you get the trust is when those guys feel like [they are improving] when they come into work – that they are going to get better. I always joke with the guys if you didn’t get better today [in practice], I’ll give you a refund.

Even DeMarre. He had some injuries in Toronto and it wasn’t perfect for him. He comes here [and gets better] – everyone always talks about development for the young guys – I want this to be a program where a guy comes here at 28 or 32 and is going to improve his game. 

What is the most under-reported story of this season so far?

That’s a great question…pauses. It sounds corny but how well our guys get along. Listen, I’ve been in this league for a while now, 11 years now, just in terms of attitude and all of the things you talk about. Character, we don’t deal with any problems. Maybe a guy has been late once or twice – that’s the biggest problem I’m dealing with…It’s just a great group of guys. It makes it enjoyable coming to work. You’re not dealing with any issues and I know that’s something that not a lot of people like to write about.

Is that the reason why you have been able to sneak a few big results this season?

Yeah. I keep on telling the guys, ‘we have to do it together’ to get this done. There’s no one guy or one coach who can get this done. I think we have a good group of guys and, not to get corny, it extends to the entire organization. That’s what culture is supposed to be. The chemistry of the organization is good. It goes beyond just the players. 

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