The Hawks are staying in Manhattan, but on Monday night, coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff made the trek to Brooklyn where they met Nets coach Kenny Atkinson for a reunion dinner of sorts. Budenholzer said Tuesday night that he picked up the check. It was the least he could do, considering he got Atkinson into this mess trying to rebuild the Nets.
“Maybe someday Kenny can pick up the check, but right now, it’s me,” Budenholzer said with a smile.
Atkinson served four years on Budenholzer’s staff in Atlanta, where his work was so impressive that Budenholzer pushed him to consider head coaching. “He was, for a long time, very focused and very interested in just developing players,” Budenholzer said. “I sensed and felt he could be more. He had a great feel for the overall game and how it all worked on both ends. He could be a great head coach. He didn’t need to limit himself to just player development. He did it somewhat reluctantly early, but once he dove into it, it was fun for he and I to talk basketball and share ideas and push each other.”
Budenholzer previously worked for the Spurs, where he got to know Sean Marks, who took over as Nets general manager last February. When Marks went searching for a coach, Budenholzer provided his input.
“I certainly made my share of phone calls and let Sean know how I felt about Kenny and how great I thought he would be and what a special basketball mind and special person he is,” Budenholzer said. “Knowing what Sean wants to do, I just felt it had the potential to be a really great fit.”
The first season with the Nets has been tough for Atkinson working with a depleted roster and then having starting point guard Jeremy Lin for only 12 games so far because of injuries. Atkinson stays in touch with Budenholzer for advice, and his mentor reminds him of how they simply stuck to their principles when things went south in their first season with the Hawks.
“It’s hard when you’re first getting started,” Budenholzer said. “Without Jeremy, the point guard is such a big part of any offense or vision, but watching tape to prepare for this, I see a lot of things they’re doing well — shooting threes and driving and attacking and playing fast. I think he’s kind of establishing the foundation and the building blocks on both ends of the court for them.”