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Kenny Atkinson: Five Takeaways from Brooklyn Nets Coach's Media Day Session

Atkinson heads into fourth season with new-look roster featuring high-powered additions

Brooklyn Nets Media Day tipped off on Friday morning with head coach Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson enters his fourth season after leading the Nets to a 42-40 record and a playoff berth, a huge leap over the 21-win team he inherited in 2016.

Here are five key points Atkinson addressed on the day before training camp starts as his team gets started on a much-anticipated season:

NEW-LOOK ROSTER

For three years, the Nets have been in development mode and Atkinson and his staff have delivered strong results from unsung free agents and late first-round picks. The 2019-20 Nets will have a different personality. In Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant, the Nets have added three of the most accomplished veterans the franchise has added in its history.

"It’s a new challenge,” said Atkinson. “We have our core values and our foundation. I don’t see us veering from that or me veering from my personality as a coach. I think it’s us figuring out this team. That’s an evolution, it’s going to take time. It’s an exciting challenge, but I don’t plan on changing just because the chess pieces have changed. I think It’s a similar philosophy. Figure out the players you have and then put them in the best position to win ball games.”

Durant, Irving and Jordan are among eight new players on the 15-man roster, plus the two-way positions are being turned over with the addition of Henry Ellenson and a yet-to-be-determined player. Team chemistry and culture was considered a key to Brooklyn’s playoff run last season, and that will have to grow anew with the new players being incorporated.

“I look at it as a wonderful challenge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the really fun part about being a coach. It’s about getting all these pieces to work together. As a coaching staff we did a good job getting those guys to play together last year and create that great chemistry and help them overachieve. But I think it’s the same challenge with these guys and a fun challenge. I can’t tell you what that’s gonna look like right now, gotta get to know these guys better. But I’m excited about it.”

POINT GUARD RELATIONSHIPS

At the top of Atkinson’s player development reputation is his track record with point guards, beginning with Jeremy Lin and their time together with the Knicks. Jeff Teague excelled for Atkinson in Atlanta, D’Angelo Russell had a career year for Brooklyn last season and Spencer Dinwiddie has grown from a G League pickup to one of the NBA’s top sixth men and a core Brooklyn piece.

“It’s a little bit of luck and having the right guys, I think getting that chemistry and that trust, whether you’re an assistant coach or a head coach,” said Atkinson. “And also it’s understanding how important that position is. I talk to our guys all the time and tell them you’re the quarterback of the team. It’s arguably the most important position in basketball today, so understanding that and supporting that, and also being a former point guard myself, not nearly at the level of those guys, but having an understanding of what that position means. I think that’s part of it.”

One thing Atkinson hasn’t had is a point guard with the resume of the newly acquired Irving, a two-time All-NBA pick. Atkinson was asked about building a relationship to date with his new floor general.

“It’s been as good as it can be,” said Atkinson. “I think the offseason is a great time to get to know not only the player but the person. I think it’s a slow process, a building process. But I’m really pleased where it is right now. Again, it’s early, we’ve had great basketball conversations, but maybe more importantly great life conversations. From a basketball standpoint and what I’ve seen in pickup games, very impressed. The work capacity and the work ethic is the reason he’s a great player. People talk about talent but they forget about the work part. Then the understanding of the game, the basketball IQ is at a very ,very, very high level. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to see where that relationship goes. But it got off to a great start, but the real test is when the pressure of games comes. We all know that’s the real test of a relationship.”

STAYING CURRENT

Standing still is never an option for Atkinson, and adapting to your new personnel is a necessity for any coach. That meant plenty of summer-time reflection on new approaches for the upcoming season.

“When you’re trying to build a high-performance culture, that includes everybody in the organization,” said Atkinson. “I think we’re working on our games, and that permeates through the organization, so that’s a fun way to do it. I know we as a coaching staff, we’re gonna change some things. Training camp, we’ve already changed some things. Philosophically, you’ll see some tweaks. I’m not gonna tell you or our opponents what they are. But you have to be able to change. You have to adapt and be flexible in this league. If you stay the same, teams are gonna pass you. We’re gonna keep our foundation and our core values intact to improve.”

VALUING DURANT

Clearly, a nine-time All-NBA pick with an MVP resume brings a ton of value, but the Nets will be waiting to see that on the court as Kevin Durant recovers from an Achilles’ injury. And Atkinson is looking forward to the day he can diagram plays for one of the league’s all-time great scorers.

Until then, Atkinson still sees great value in Durant’s presence around the team.

"I think his presence when he walks into a room or into a facility,” said Atkinson. “Really in free agency, when he walked in the room, it’s just a different vibe. We all know his background and how great a player he is and all the great things he’s done. That presence, it changes things, there’s a different aura. I think it’s gonna elevate all our games. Other players get better, but I think it’s gonna help our coaching staff get better. Players know more than coaches, and you talk about the elite players, they know a ton about this game. They’ve been through the really high-pressure situations. Already we’ve had some great basketball conversations. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s gonna be a great segue to when he can actually play.”

WHO’S THE 4 MAN?

The Nets tried four different players starting at the power forward spot last season, from the veteran Jared Dudley to the rookie Rodions Kurucs. Kurucs is the only one returning, and carrying an extra 15 pounds or so of muscle after being listed at 210 pounds before last season.

Will Kurucs reclaim the starting spot? There are new additions in the mix, although one of them, veteran Wilson Chandler, will be sidelined at the start, suspended for the first 25 games. There’s also Taurean Prince, who invites easy comparisons to DeMarre Carroll in their size and versatility to play the 3 or the 4. Atkinson added a surprising name to the mix on Friday when he mentioned gritty 6-foot-4 guard David Nwaba. Maybe it shouldn’t have been that surprising as Atkinson didn’t hesitate to use 6-5 Treveon Graham at the spot last year, and liked the defensive intensity Graham brought to the spot. Going further afield, a three-guard lineup could slide Joe Harris down on occasion. Could the Nets go big with Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan? A twin towers combo is one wrinkle the Nets really haven’t turned to under Atkinson.

“It’ll play out through competition,” said Atkinson. “I think that’s the great thing about having; we have a versatile roster, and I think you guys saw that last year. We can plug a lot of guys in. No one’s talked about David Nwaba, who I thought was an excellent signing. He can play that position. We have guys that can play multiple positions. The 4 spot has become that kind of hybrid spot. We have the talent and the personnel to fill that position.”

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