In the span of three seasons, coach Kenny Atkinson has taken the Nets from an NBA-worst record in his rookie year to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with four games left. It has been an eye-catching success story that has Atkinson in the conversation for NBA Coach of the Year, and now he and his coaching staff are close to being rewarded with contract extensions.
News that Northport native Atkinson and his staff are in the final stage of negotiations for an extension first was reported by ESPN on Monday night, and Newsday has confirmed that report with an NBA source.
Reaction from Nets players was swift and supportive. DeMarre Carroll, who credits much of his development to Atkinson when he was an assistant with the Hawks, tweeted, “One of the hardest-working coaches in the business… Dude watches film at least 20 hours a day.”
Jared Dudley tweeted “Well deserved,” adding a hand clap. Spencer Dinwiddie offered a positive hand sign in response.
On Tuesday, Atkinson avoided talking about the report that he and his staff were close to signing contract extensions. “After the season we can go have a coffee in Cobble Hill,” Atkinson said. “All you guys, we can talk about it.”
Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell all praised the decision Tuesday. “That’s big-time,” Russell said. “Well deserved.”
According to HoopsHype, Atkinson’s original deal was for four years and $10 million, which put his annual average of $2.5 million per season, near the bottom of all NBA head coaches. But Atkinson has weathered long-term injuries to major players, including Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, Russell, LeVert and Dinwiddie while taking the Nets from 20 wins his first season to 28 last season and 39-39 now.
Russell has praised Atkinson’s hard coaching as one of the major reasons he developed into an All-Star this season. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle recently said the Nets have “elite coaching.” The Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer, who was Atkinson’s boss in Atlanta and is among the favorites to win Coach of the Year, said Monday night that Atkinson is a deserving candidate.
“I’d love for Kenny to be Coach of the Year,” Budenholzer said before the Bucks beat the Nets. “I think he’s very deserving with what he’s done here in three years, the culture and the way they compete, the way they play both ends of the court. I just think he’s incredibly deserving.”
With Denis P. Gorman