In his heart of hearts, it’s doubtful that Kenny Atkinson could have imagined his first season as Nets coach could be so bad in terms of his team’s NBA-worst 8-33 record as they begin the second half of the season Friday night in New Orleans. But Atkinson has remained relentlessly positive and has embraced the mission that he and general manager Sean Marks set forth to build a new culture.
Who could have known that point guard Jeremy Lin would be healthy for only 12 of 41 games, with no timetable for his return from his second hamstring strain? On the other hand, Atkinson always knew it would be a struggle to rebuild with fringe-level roster talent the Nets were able to cobble together in the offseason.
“Looking at it positively, I like that our players are buying into what we’re trying to do,” he said. “The culture we’re trying to establish is a little different maybe from what they’re used to, and I’m just thrilled that they’re buying in.
“We’re all going to have to have patience. It’s tough for players. Young players want now, and they want everything right now. So do coaches. People ask me, ‘Is this a tough situation?’ I say being around a great group of guys makes it easier, and a great staff. I love being around the people in the organization, so that’s important.”
The biggest buy-in has come from the longtime face of the franchise, Brook Lopez. He has transformed his game remarkably, learning to play away from the basket, developing a consistent three-point shot and striving to become a force in Atkinson’s defensive system. The coach is impressed.
“We spent a lot of time with Brook over the summer,” Atkinson said Thursday. “I think him being around us and understanding what we’re trying to do — and I’ll include Sean in that, too — and constantly communicating where we’re going and what we’re trying to do and what our program is . . . I think he sees the stuff around it. I think his buy-in has been fantastic. I’ve been super-impressed at how positive he is. I think that’s been huge. He has his moments, but for the most part, he’s done a great job.”
Atkinson said the Nets have regressed lately on defense and also must cut down the league’s highest rate of turnovers and improve their three-point shooting. But despite 11 straight losses, the effort level remains strong.
“Part of this is having fun and keeping an even keel, keeping in balance,” Atkinson said. “What really helps is having a good group of guys who keep working and keep pounding the rock and looking for a breakthrough.”
Notes & quotes: Quincy Acy is expected to be signed to a second 10-day deal Friday and be available against the Pelicans.