MEMPHIS — After trading away franchise cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to begin rebuilding through the draft, the Grizzlies hired first-time head coach Taylor Jenkins, who said before facing the Nets on Sunday night that he plans to follow the development model coach Kenny Atkinson has used successfully in Brooklyn.
It figures. Jenkins and Atkinson became close friends while serving as assistant coaches in Atlanta from 2013-16 before Atkinson got the Nets’ job.
“He’s always been a mentor of mine and supporter of mine, especially as an assistant coach helping me learn my first year in Atlanta and then year after year, showing me his passion for player development, learning tricks from him and what it means to build relationships with players,” Jenkins said. “I think you see that in Brooklyn with what he’s done over the last couple of years.
“He’s just got great energy. He always uses the word ‘spirit.’ Always makes sure the spirit of the team and the spirit of the individual is positive and on the upward trend. That’s something I’ve carried with me year after year. I credit a lot to him.”
Jenkins said the Nets were one of the teams it was his job to scout the past three seasons as Atkinson guided them from worst record in the NBA to sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. “You saw the steady growth one season after another,” he said. “It’s something I’ve definitely been mindful of . . . Brooklyn is definitely a team I want to keep my eye on and take from them.”
Atkinson couldn’t resist the chance to draw a distinction between the situation he inherited with a franchise bereft of draft picks compared to the Grizzlies, who got No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant.
“He had some lottery picks,” Atkinson said. “That’s kind of a big difference. “I know he’s going to establish a great program. They’re going to be a team on the rise. They’re going to be a team on the rise. I’m almost sure of it.”