Kenny Atkinson owes a great deal to the man he will be opposing Tuesday night. Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, his boss for the previous four seasons, taught him a lot and helped prepare him to become coach of the Nets. And no, he never curses Budenholzer for landing him in such a fix.
Even during the Nets’ current six-game losing streak, even after disheartening losses such as the one to the next-to-worst 76ers on Sunday, Atkinson still loves this new job every day.
“At night, I hate it,” he said about the sleeplessness that comes from thinking about potential wins that become defeats. “Then when you wake up, it’s a new day. I get on the bike, I get a sweat, I watch the game. I have a refrain: It’s never as bad as you think, it’s never as good as you think.”
He added that, in retrospect, he actually saw many positives in the Nets’ 105-95 loss Sunday. He was looking forward to a bigger positive Monday night: dinner with Budenholzer, whose team will play at Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
Atkinson regularly texts his former mentor, whom he served as assistant coach for four years, often asking for advice. The exchanges are filled with gratitude.
“Everyone thinks coaching is X’s and O’s and strategy. And of course, I learned stuff there,” Atkinson said after practice Monday. “But it’s more about program-building and culture-building. When Bud came in there and really opened my eyes to a different way of doing things. Little stuff like how important team dinners were, how we did our travel. The idea was really leaving no stone unturned, making sure we had the right forks in the cafeteria.”
Foremost were the lessons on being honest with players. “Sometimes honesty is uncomfortable. You can’t be afraid of that as a coach,” said Atkinson, who waived former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett on Monday.
What really impressed Atkinson during his time in Atlanta was the consistency of the approach. “I think Bud’s first year, we went on a stretch where I think we lost 15 out of 16,’’ he said. “What I learned from that is, ‘We’re sticking with the process.’ Then when we won 60 games, it was kind of the same.”
Rebuilding the Nets will involve a long process, and Atkinson is up for it. Forward Trevor Booker, who said he will try to play Tuesday night despite a bruised hip, said, “He’s the main one telling us to stay positive, just letting us know we’re working toward something.”
On Tuesday night, it will mean working to overcome Dwight Howard and an Atlanta team in transition (four Hawks All-Stars from 2015 are gone, and another one, Paul Millsap, could be next). No matter how it works out, the thankful former Hawks assistant happily will watch the video tomorrow.
“Looking at it after a so-so night’s sleep,” Atkinson said, “you keep a better perspective on it. ”