The Brooklyn Nets have run the gamut in recent years regarding successes and failures.
Whether it was their brazen owner Mikhail Prokhorov erroneously guaranteeing a championship within five years, the all-in fire sale of draft picks that brought in aging former stars in order to reach those lofty goals, or the recent crash and burn in the standings and coaching carousel, the Nets have not lacked for drama.
But with Sunday’s hiring of longtime assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, it seems like the Nets are finally trying to display stability. Atkinson, who is currently the Atlanta Hawks assistant coach and a former longtime assistant on a couple of Knicks’ staffs, won’t be available to fully immerse himself in the Nets’ culture until the fourth-seeded Hawks are eliminated from the playoffs.
The new foundation was laid in mid-February when Sean Marks was hired to be the general manager. The former NBA forward was groomed for this very position during his years spent in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office. And if anything has been learned over the last 15-plus seasons in San Antonio, the Spurs know how to develop a roster and nurture a winning environment.
Atkinson was the next step, as Marks envisions a head coach who will fully utilize the pieces provided. The Spurs’ DNA is all over the Nets, as Atkinson is currently working for Mike Budenholzer, who was a longtime assistant in San Antonio. There’s no guarantee the success will replicate itself in Brooklyn, but it’s a path worth taking, considering the precedence in San Antonio.
Unless the Nets hit it big in free agency this summer, it’ll be a steady process in re-establishing the franchise as a legit Eastern Conference contender. Marks’s way will show that there is no quick fix. But his pedigree – and Atkinson’s enthusiasm, ability to relate to today’s players, and vast basketball knowledge – provides hope in Brooklyn. And in due time, the Nets and their faithful believe they’ll get this turned around.
Center Brook Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young, the two highest paid Nets, combine for 44 percent of the team’s total salary cap space this season. But with the new television deal set to kick in next season, Brooklyn will at least garner a few more millions to their coffer, as an estimated $40 million will be available in the adjusted salary cap. The 2016-17 salary cap is expected to raise to almost $90 million. And the percentage of salary cap space eaten by the aforementioned duo next season dips to 36 percent, meaning Marks will have plenty of room to revive the roster.
Atkinson could be a valued asset during the free agency frenzy this summer, as he’s well liked and respected around the league. A young 48 years of age, Atkinson was a popular figure on the Knicks. His daily enthusiasm was appreciated under Mike D’Antoni’s and Mike Woodson’s staffs, as he would often be seen running point guard during scrimmages any time the injury bug hit the Knicks.
Marks is charged with a culture change and to make Brooklyn appealing to free agents over a period of time. It’ll be a road filled with singles and doubles, and very few home runs, so Nets’ fans shouldn’t be hitching their hopes to the likes of a Kevin Durant or an Al Horford, but more like a Nicolas Batum, Al Jefferson, Ryan Anderson, Gerald Henderson, or an Evan Turner.
The new general manager alluded to such soon after being hired, noting that agents and players are already “getting wind that something different is happening” in Brooklyn.
Developing something different is certainly the intent in Brooklyn, but don’t be surprised if it all looks rather similar to a certain team in Texas.
- The Nets will have the seventh-most cap space available this summer.
- Atkinson is now the team’s sixth head coach since it moved to Brooklyn prior to the 2012-13 season. He follows Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and the interim coach Tony Brown.