Normally, it’s coach Kenny Atkinson who sends a message to his Nets players, but following the Nets’ elimination after five games of their first-round playoff series against the 76ers, he said the players sent their own message with a string of comments during their exit interviews suggesting the Nets need to sign an All-Star caliber free agent to help them compete with a star-studded team such as the Sixers.
When he met with reporters on Thursday to review the season, Atkinson credited general manager Sean Marks and his staff for all the moves they made to dramatically improve the Nets’ roster. “We signed the right players, we drafted the right players, we traded for the right players,” Atkinson said. “That’s really the story of the season, and now, the challenge for us and Sean is – I know the message (from the players on Wednesday) was we want more. I don’t think we’re sitting here satisfied.
“I think we’re going to double-down on the way we’ve been doing things no matter what our roster looks like and a heavy emphasis on development and culture. I’m really proud and convinced this is the way to do it. Considering the predictions and everything before the season, it kind of confirms a little bit this is the right way to do it. Our process is right, and we’re going to keep it in the same direction.”
During the player exit interviews, veteran Jared Dudley suggested the key to the Nets’ future is continued development by second-year center Jarrett Allen, and Atkinson agreed with him.
“I was really impressed with how he improved in the playoffs alone from Game 1 to Game 5 and how he just kept getting better,” Atkinson said. “His rebounding improved this year. He’s a key cog and still 21. In our exit meetings, we talked to him about the things we want him to work on. I expect him in two or three years to be an elite center in this league. He’s going that direction, and I’m thrilled with his development so far.”
Despite the strides Allen has taken, the Nets struggled consistently whenever they ran into top-caliber centers who play a physical game in the low post, such as 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid or Pistons center Andre Drummond. Rebounding was a major weakness in the playoffs, and the Nets struggled in that area often during the regular season.
Atkinson prefers big men who can stretch the floor, and he is encouraging Allen to continue working on his three-point shooting to expand his game along with developing his strength. Asked if he ever could find a spot in his system for a more traditional low-post big man of the sort who have given the Nets fits, Atkinson indicated it’s not a priority.
“I could coach a guy like that, definitely would fit our system,” Atkinson said. “This year, I was pleased. Jarrett is a young guy, and we all understand still gaining strength. We expect him, as the years go on, to be more resistant to those types of players. We had Ed Davis as our backup, who I was thrilled with and was a great system fit.
“I think we have to be careful with the rebounding thing, the size thing, especially the rebounding thing. It’s not just the center position, it’s all around the roster. You have to rebound at all positions in today’s game. When you look at the playoffs, I see a lot of 6-7 guys running around out there. I liked our roster this year and was pleased with the size we had. It’s not necessarily a target for us just getting one big guy.”