The Brooklyn Nets have hired Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as their head coach to a multi-year contract, the team announced Sunday afternoon. The deal was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!’s The Vertical.
Atkinson will continue to work with the Hawks until their postseason run concludes before officially joining the Nets.
“I am truly honored and humbled to be named the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, and I would like to thank Nets’ ownership and management for this tremendous opportunity,” said Atkinson in a statement prepared by the Nets. “Together with Sean and his staff, we look forward to building a winning tradition here in Brooklyn. I also want to acknowledge and thank Mike Budenholzer and the entire Atlanta Hawks organization for their cooperation and support throughout this process. While I am eager to begin working with the Nets, I remain committed to my coaching responsibilities with the Hawks for the remainder of the postseason.”
Atkinson has a tangential relationship to the San Antonio Spurs lineage. Atkinson has been an assistant with the Hawks since 2012, and under Mike Budenholzer since 2013; Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich, crossing paths with Nets general manager Sean Marks when Marks was both a player and a member of the front office.
Coach Bud statement on the Atkinson hire by the Nets. pic.twitter.com/NWMbAk3nMn
— Bo Churney (@bochurney) April 17, 2016
“We are thrilled to announce Kenny Atkinson as our new head coach and to welcome him and his family to Brooklyn,” Marks said in the prepared statement. “Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni have provided him with the foundation and experience we were looking for in a head coach. We believe that Kenny’s core principles, leadership, communication skills and exceptional background in player development make him an ideal fit for the culture we are building in Brooklyn.”
“I’d like to extend a personal welcome to Kenny and wish all of us success as we begin a new era at the Brooklyn Nets,” Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov added in the prepared statement. “Aside from his tremendous skills and experience, he has the mindset we need to build a winning team day by day, step by step. Together, we can do great things.”
Atkinson has long been rumored as a head coaching candidate due to his player development strengths, both for the Nets and in other capacities. In 2015, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz listed Atkinson among a list of the NBA’s top head-coaching prospects, saying of Atkinson:
He’s earned a reputation as an affable teacher who is both cerebral and a high-level communicator. He thoroughly enjoys getting on the floor with a player and sees that individual development work as a collaboration between player and coach.
“He believes you can improve as a player, even at the highest level, and that there’s always something you can add to your game,” Hawks big man Al Horford says. “He’s been here for three years with me, and he’s challenged me. For instance, before he got here, I was pretty much a shooter on the pick-and-pop. I was never really driving. Kenny has challenged me to put the ball on the floor. It’s something we’ve worked on together, and now it’s something I feel comfortable doing.”
In a poll on Nets fan site NetsDaily in January, over 2,000 fans voted for Atkinson as their choice at head coach, winning 36 percent of the vote — more than any other candidate.
Atkinson’s professional playing career spanned 14 years and over fifteen teams, though he never cracking the NBA until hitting the coaching ranks, working as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks in 2008, where he worked until joining the Hawks.