Kenny Atkinson has guided the Nets from an NBA-worst 20-62 in...

Kenny Atkinson has guided the Nets from an NBA-worst 20-62 in 2016-17 to 42-40 and a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season.

As the Nets prepare to enter the NBA free-agent market in search of a top-tier talent who can lead them into championship contention, minority owner Joe Tsai on Thursday praised the leadership of general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson and made it clear he is a full partner in the team-first culture they have developed.

Tsai, who recently purchased the Liberty, spoke to reporters before the Liberty faced the Chinese national team Thursday night. At the moment, Tsai owns 49 percent of the Nets, but his agreement with majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov calls for Tsai to become majority owner no later than 2021.

Asked what an owner might offer to convince top free agents in a market that includes Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to join the Nets, the owner of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said, “I think the owner is only part of what makes an organization attractive.

“What I think is important as the owner is to encourage and allow a positive culture, a sustainable winning culture to develop within the organization. That means bringing in the right people in terms of front office, coaching staff and performance staff so that your players…feel like their entire life both an and off the court can be taken care of, that there’s someone there to pay attention to it.”

Tsai credited Marks and Atkinson for laying that groundwork, especially in terms of a performance staff that monitors player health and a coaching staff focused on player development. In their third season under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets made a huge leap forward with a 42-40 record and a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs just two years after Atkinson’s rookie coaching season when they were an NBA-worst 20-62.

Northport native Atkinson was named on Thursday as one of five finalists for the Rudy Tomjanovich award as NBA coach of the year. The announcement was made by the Professional Basketball Writers Association. Joining Atkinson on the list of finalists are Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who was a mentor to Atkinson when D’Antoni was coach of the Knicks and Atkinson was on his staff, Nuggets coach Mike Malone, Pacers coach Nate McMillan and Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

“[When you] talk about building a winning culture, the first thing is you want to make players work with each other as a team so that there is a real positive locker-room culture,” Tsai said. “It’s not that easy to put together that kind of cohesive locker-room culture.

“As the owner, the best thing I can do is allow that to happen. I alone will not be able to do what Sean and Kenny and our performance staff are doing.”

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