By Steve Lichtenstein
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Kenny Atkinson knows what he is in for.
The expectations for the recently hired Nets coach who was introduced to the media Monday afternoon couldn’t be any lower.
The nearly 49-year-old Atkinson is taking over a team that came close to rock bottom last season. The Nets finished with a 21-61 record, which could have been an asset if it was their representative on the stage at Tuesday night’s draft lottery drawing instead of Boston’s.
The Nets do not control their own first-round draft choice until 2019. (The Celtics can swap slots in next year’s draft and also own the Nets’ 2018 selection thanks to the summer 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.) That complicates matters for a team whose cupboard of quality players is maybe a third full.
In his remarks to the press, Atkinson didn’t try to sugarcoat his situation. There wasn’t any “championship or bust” hype that we have seen in the past from some of the Nets’ prior five coaches in their first four seasons in Brooklyn.
Atkinson and Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks understand that this rebuild will take years.
Which is the right approach following a string of whiffed quick-fixes engineered by former general manager Billy King with the alleged urging by owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Atkinson said his shared vision with Marks is to “build patiently, intelligently. From my standpoint, my message is that we’re going to put a competitive group on the floor.”
I found it most interesting that Marks stated that the execution of such vision would be a collaborative process. Marks said he will look to not only Atkinson, but also to his staff (including lead assistant coach Jacque Vaughn, whose hire was confirmed Monday) for input.
It’s only odd when you think of how often King reportedly butted heads over the years with his coaches over personnel — Avery Johnson on Deron Williams, Jason Kidd on Brook Lopez, and Lionel Hollins on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
But this is the “Spurs’ way.”
Both Marks, who rose through the San Antonio executive branch before coming to Brooklyn in February, and Atkinson, who served under one-time Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta the past four seasons, are fruit from the Spurs’ tree.
Of course, it will be impossible to replicate the Spurs’ record of achievements in Brooklyn. For one thing, without any high draft picks, a Tim Duncan-like transformational player Isn’t arriving any time soon.
“This isn’t San Antonio,” said Marks. “This isn’t Atlanta. This is Brooklyn, and we’re going to make it our own.”
However, there are certain underrated aspects of the Spurs’ machine that may apply here. For example, Marks and his assistant Trajan Langdon have extensive experience with scouting international players. The Nets could sure benefit from the acquisition of under-the-radar talent the way the Spurs have.
Then there’s the matter of developing that talent. The Spurs have had remarkable success integrating players of various backgrounds and skill sets into their system.
Atkinson’s work in this area has earned rave reviews from a few prominent NBA players (Jeremy Lin, Al Horford and Jeff Teague).
Atkinson said he could “give an hourlong discussion” about player development, but that it mostly involved caring.
Atkinson’s passion for the job came across during Monday’s news conference. He fought through raw emotions when thanking those who helped him reach the pinnacle in his profession.
The Long Island native wants to be here.
“New York is basketball. Brooklyn is basketball,” said Atkinson.
What are the odds he feels the same way a year from now?
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1