Kenny Atkinson

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Nets, Stevens, Raptors

With training camp kicking off this week, on-court expectations the Knicks aren’t particularly high for the upcoming season. As Marc Berman of the New York Post explains, the organization has shifted its focus to player development and building a strong culture for the 2018/19 campaign.

After years of misguided attempts to make the playoffs, team president Steve Mills is excited about what the team is building, laying the groundwork with the recent hirings of Scott Perry as GM and David Fizdale as head coach.

Berman points out that all summer the discussion throughout the organization has been about patience, process and not skipping steps, words and phrases you would expect to hear from a team that is finally focused on building a contender in a more efficient manner.

With Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss a good chunk of the season, Fizdale will have the opportunity to work and develop the young players on the team, including 2018 first round pick Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, the talented defensive point guard.

The Knicks have their own 2019 first round draft pick and significant space under the salary cap to spend in free agency should they look to contend in the 2019/20 season. For now, the focus is on player development and instilling a successful culture behind the scenes in order to set the organization up for sustained success in the future.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson is focused on Brooklyn’s defense in the upcoming season, as he believes it’s the area the team can show the most improvement. Brian Lewis of the New York Post points out that such improvement will have to come organically, as the Nets didn’t add any standout defenders in the offseason despite the plethora of moves they made to improve their roster.
  • Despite all of the offensive firepower and talent on the Celtics‘ roster, head coach Brad Stevens still has concerns heading into the upcoming campaign. As Steve Bulpett writes for The Boston Herald, Stevens wants to make sure the Celtics don’t simply go through the motions on the offensive end of the court as a result of their talent and depth.
  • From their change in head coach to the addition of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are preparing for a training camp and season like no other, says Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. All eyes will be on the Raps this season as they look to not only compete for a championship, but also work to convince Leonard to re-sign in the 2019 offseason.

Atlantic Notes: Noah, Porzingis, Atkinson, Crawford

As we relayed earlier this week, the Knicks are expected to part ways with oft-injured center Joakim Noah before the start of training camp. If the Knicks fail to find a trading partner, the team is expected to use the stretch provision after September 1. Noah, 33, still has two years and $37.8MM left on his deal.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News examined both the good and bad sides of the Knicks parting ways with Noah this offseason. It would likely avoid a major headache and possible players’ union issue if the Knicks refuse to play Noah. Bondy reiterates that the deadline to solve the Noah issue is not September 1 but rather next summer when New York intends to pursue top free agents.

The Nets dealing Timofey Mozgov‘s lucrative multiyear contract for an expiring deal is one example of a team leveraging an albatross deal into future cap space. The Knicks’ best choice would be to hold onto Noah and look for trades instead of stretching his contract, Bondy writes.

Check out more Atlantic Division notes:

  • In the same story, Bondy looked at the pros and cons of the Knicks extending Kristaps Porzingis this offseason. On one hand, New York should lock up its best player since Patrick Ewing amid an unstable environment, with Porzingis set to play for the fourth coach of his career in 2018/19. Conversely, the Knicks plan to make use of their cap room in 2019, and extending the Latvian now would eat into that space — the team could simply let him hit restricted free agency and then negotiate or match any offer.
  • Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson denied the franchise has contemplated tanking in order to secure more favorable draft positioning, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. Instead, Atkinson says the goal is to play as well as possible so Brooklyn becomes a desirable free agency destination. “We talk about internal improvement, we talk about player development, we talk about culture,” Atkinson said. “Tanking is not a word we use. It’s just not in our [vocabulary]. I don’t think the fans in New York want to see that.”
  • Following an injury to rookie Zhaire Smith, the Sixers may be in the market for wing depth, and veteran sharpshooter Jamal Crawford could fit the bill. In a recent appearance on Brandon Robinson’s Scoop B Podcast, Crawford spoke glowingly of Philadelphia and what playing there would mean to him (via Amico Hoops). “I like their city. I like how into it they are about basketball. I like their knowledge of basketball, how passionate they are. I’ve always loved coach Brett Brown,” Crawford said.

Sean Sweeney Agrees To Join Pistons’ Staff

The Pistons have reached an agreement with Bucks assistant Sean Sweeney to join Dwane Casey’s staff, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.

Detroit had been making a hard push to convince Sweeney to make the switch. Sweeney has worked closely with Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

One of the concessions the Pistons made in negotiations with the former Raptors head coach was that he could pick his own assistants.

Sweeney was one of the candidates for the Nets’ head coaching job two years ago when they wound up hiring Kenny Atkinson.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Atkinson, Sixers, Celtics, Sullivan

After a record-breaking regular season, the Raptors once again laid an egg in the postseason, leading to the firing of Coach of the Year candidate Dwane Casey. Now, barring any trades, the team is faced with a potential luxury tax issue with a roster that cannot seem to compete in the weaker Eastern Conference come playoff time.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at the luxury tax concerns for Toronto, focusing on who the Raptors could afford to surrender in order to get under the tax threshold while also remaining competitive.

Koreen opines that in a perfect world, the Raptors would probably love to unload one or both of the contracts of Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, who are scheduled to make over $21.6MM and $9.3MM next season, respectively.

More realistically, the club may decide to let young guard Fred VanVleet sign somewhere else instead of matching what is expected to be an offer in the $7.5MM per season range. Koreen also explores the possibility of moving on from big man Jonas Valanciunas or the player the Raptors used their MLE on last summer – C.J. Miles.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Nets have been relatively uncompetitive for the last three seasons, but head coach Kenny Atkinson expects significant growth next season, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post. The Nets have limited cap space and traded away their own first-round pick in this month’s NBA Draft, so Atkinson will need to rely on his reputed prowess as a player developer if the Nets hope to show meaningful improvement.
  • Regardless of whether or not the Sixers succeed in signing a superstar free agent this offseason, the team will need to make sure to also sign both a guard with long-range shooting ability who is capable of guarding opposing point guards (e.g. Patrick Beverley) and a backup center capable of protecting the rim when Joel Embiid isn’t on the court, per David Murphy of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • The Celtics‘ first selection in the upcoming draft, barring a trade, isn’t until pick No. 27, but according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, the team can still add some quality wing depth with versatile players such as Gary Trent Jr. or Josh Okogie, both of whom are likely to be available towards the end of the first round.
  • Per Ian Begley of ESPN, former Clippers’ assistant coach Pat Sullivan will join the Knicks staff as an assistant for new head coach David Fizdale. Sullivan, a New Jersey native, worked as an assistant coach for the Pistons when Knicks’ GM Scott Perry was an executive with the team.

Nets Notes: Atkinson, Draft-And-Stash, Weissenbock

The Nets hired Kenny Atkinson to be the team’s head coach prior to the 2016/17 season, which was a deviation from the norm for NBA head coaching hires. While Atkinson was a respected assistant coach, he had no head coaching experience and was more of a developmental coach; someone who works with players individually, aside from the usual team mindset.

On his podcast, The Woj Pod, alongside Bobby Marks and Brian Windhorst, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted that Atkinson’s hiring may be a blueprint for future coaching hires. With several teams in the market for head coaches, and more organizations prioritizing development, hiring someone in the mold of Atkinson is an appealing choice. Just recently, the Hawks hired former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who is viewed in a similar light as Atkinson (via NetsDaily).

“You may see a new vehicle in the coaching profession because all these organizations are saying there are so many teams in rebuild,” Wojnarowski said. “There are so many teams that are not trying to win and they’re saying for the next two or three years we’re gonna have a lot of young guys. We’re going to have some draft picks. And we feel like we’ve got to get those guys better.”

 Check out more Nets notes below:
  • With the Nets wielding a late first-round pick and two second-round picks in this year’s draft, the team can get creative with their prospective selections. During a recent interview, the Nets’ director of player personnel, Gregg Polinsky, indicated the team could go the draft-and-stash route by selecting a European player and giving him the chance to develop overseas, per NetsDaily.
  • Brose Bamberg, a top team in Germany, will be lending the services of player development coach Stefan Weissenbock to the Nets this summer, NetsDaily relays. Weissenbock will travel to New York several times over the summer while Bamberg will receive a rental fee for his services, per the report. He has worked with several NBA players.
  • As we noted yesterday, Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon is among several candidates for the Pistons’ basketball operations position.

Atlantic Notes: Sixers Culture, Rozier, Wright

Love or hate The Process, it produced a Sixers team that is every bit an Eastern Conference contender. Beyond the roster loaded with talent, however, is a strong culture, one that ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz points out is far more developed and nuanced than we all assumed while they were losing historically.

All of that was a time of learning, a time of progression, a time of really seeing the type of person you can become when you endure hard time,” said Sixers forward Robert Covington. “That journey made us who we are. The 18-win season, the 10-win season. All that, it built us up for this moment.

A mainstay for the team during those lean years is a tradition of having players give presentations about topics that resonate with them on a monthly basis. The result? A series of PowerPoint speeches over which Sixers staffers and stars have been connecting.

Arnovitz breaks down the motivation behind the Sixers’ discussions, which range from Covington’s lecture on snakes to Dario Saric‘s lesson on the Balkan conflict that shaped his childhood. If you dive into one #LongRead today, make it this one.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Consider David Lee a supporter of the notion that the Knicks should hire Mark Jackson. Lee played in New York and later for Jackson in Golden State. “Mark understands the difference in New York basketball. He’s from there,” Lee told Marc Berman of The New York Post. “He understands the politics, the fans, things involved unique to the Knicks. That’s an advantage he has.
  • A pair of Atlantic Division point guards have developed slowly over time. Now, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wonders if Delon Wright and Terry Rozier could eventually leave the Raptors and Celtics for a chance to play a bigger role on another squad. Both players will be eligible for extensions this offseason, and Toronto and Boston may not have the cap flexibility to invest in them for the long term.
  • The Nets have seen a trend of development in players that they’ve had for two or more seasons. Tom Dowd of the team’s official website writes that all eyes will be on D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen to see if they’ll show similar improvements when they reach their second year under the tutelage of head coach Kenny Atkinson.

Nets Notes: Allen, Atkinson, Kilpatrick, Lin

As pointed out by Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders, not a lot of people inside or outside of the Nets organization could have anticipated the season put together by rookie big man Jarrett Allen. In fact, many thought Allen may actually spend a good chunk of the season in the G-League.

Yet Allen, the sixth youngest player in the NBA and thought to be a project when drafted 22nd overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, found himself a regular member of Brooklyn’s starting lineup by season’s end.

“I defied some people’s expectations,” Allen said. “A lot of people thought I was going to be a G-League guy, and that they were going to have to develop me before I’d be ready to play at the NBA level, but I came in and played well enough to be a starter. I’m playing starter’s minutes now and putting up pretty good numbers. I think I’m doing pretty well.”

When asked what he needs to improve upon most, Allen wouldn’t limit his response to only one area – explaining that he needs to get stronger and work on his offensive game.

“This offseason definitely is going to be when I add a lot of muscle. I want to add strength, shooting, and offensive game stuff. [Defensively], I think I’ve done pretty well, and I know I’ll get even better with time, but I need to work on offensive skills, dribbling, shooting, and post work.”

There’s more out of Brooklyn:

  • Despite having a lesser overall record than some head coaches on the hot seat, Kenny Atkinson isn’t likely to be let go after the season, writes Brian Lewis of the New York Post. One reason? Approval from legendary Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
  • Former Nets and current Bulls guard Sean Kilpatrick was surprised to be released by the team earlier this season, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “Absolutely (I was surprised by the move). And I’m pretty sure the coaches were surprised as well. When the news broke, my teammates, some of them cried. They were shocked … But you have to move on in this league.”
  • Nets injured point guard Jeremy Lin worked out in front of Atkinson yesterday, leaving his head coach impressed but cautious, tweets Lewis. “We’ve just got to be really super, super-cautious. We don’t want to rush this in April, May. But I was blown away at how well he was moving, and the stuff he did yesterday.”

New York Notes: Russell, Atkinson, Cunningham, Thomas

The Nets started D’Angelo Russell for the first time since mid-November in their second-half opener against the Hornets. Russell played 32 minutes, his most since November, and his recent play indicates he’s slowly shaking off the rust.

Bryan Fonseca of NetsDaily relays that starting Russell alongside Spencer Dinwiddie — an all-point-guard backcourt — was not so much planned as it was based on his instinct.

“I think it was a feel, kind of my feel,” Atkinson said. “Talking with the medical team and performance (team). I think it was mostly basketball, just him getting his rhythm, and I felt like that Indiana game he really showed me – I felt like he was getting there.”

Atkinson is unsure of when Russell will be back at full health, but feels the former second overall pick is trending in the right direction.

Check out more news and notes from New York’s basketball teams:

  • Under Atkinson’s watch, the Nets have been in rebuild mode and have stressed the future. While the team is improved from last year’s league-worst 20-62 record, Brooklyn has lost 12 of its last 13 and is trending downward, Fonseca writes in a separate piece. “I’ve said that, we’re better, that’s what’s frustrating,” Atkinson said. “We’re on pace for a 30-something win season and then we hit this skid and it’s like, man – I’m optimistic, I’m hungry to get back on track. Now, that being said, we’ve got a tough schedule coming up, we’re going to be on the road awhile, but it’s great.”
  • The longevity of Dante Cunningham‘s stint in Brooklyn is uncertain, but he’s enjoying his time with the Nets, Fonseca writes. The veteran was acquired by Brooklyn before the trade deadline and has played well thus far. “I’m old in here,” Cunningham said with a smile. “I look around the locker room and see a lot of young guys, but hungry guys and I love it. I love that I’m the older guy that they kind of look up to and kind of ask, ‘So what’s this like or what’s that like?’ So that’s kind of fun, it’s a different side.”
  • Lance Thomas‘ numbers in the box score will not merit much attention, but his visible defensive impact is a game-changer for the Knicks, Fred Kerber of the New York Post writes. “He’s kind of that guy, it doesn’t matter if he’s on the 1, 2, 3 or 4. When he’s at the 4 spot, then we also have the ability to switch some too because you’re not afraid of Lance switching off on a point guard,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You saw him pick up guys full court. He knocked one away and ended up ending the game with a steal. Lance is the guy that, if you read a stat line, you’re not going see his value. … He does his role.”

Atlantic Notes: Nets, Ujiri, Porzingis

There’s no denying that the Nets were in a pickle when Sean Marks took over from Billy King as general manager of the franchise. In the time since, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer writes, the former Spurs‘ staffer has changed the culture of the franchise by consistently and patiently strategizing ways to improve.

Another transformative figure within the Nets organization is head coach Kenny Atkinson. O’Connor details Atkinson’s hands-on approach and willingness to get in the foxhole with his players.

The results speak for themselves. While the Nets don’t exactly strike fear in their opponents yet, they’ve managed to amass a solid cache of promising young players despite the previous regime having unloaded a bounty of picks in one of the worst trades in sports history.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ex-Celtics big man and current Heat forward Jordan Mickey gives his former boss the benefit of the doubt regarding his release from the team. Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe tweets that Mickey was surprised about being waived in the summer but that he trusts that Danny Ainge knows what he’s doing.
  • Give Masai Ujiri more credit for his work with the Raptors, Tom Ziller of SB Nation writes. The Raps’ president of basketball operations has turned a fledgling squad into a consistent playoff team and now a potential contender, all without bottoming out.
  • Desperate to build enough strength to avoid injuries, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis has been working with famous personal trainer Carlon Colker, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes. The doctor and former MMA fighter has worked previously with Shaquille O’Neal and, uh, Justin Bieber.

Nets Notes: Culture, Carroll, Okafor

GM Sean Marks was worried that parting ways with locker room favorites Trevor Booker and Sean Kilpatrick would disrupt the Nets‘ chemistry, which is why he took a proactive approach, personally explaining to the team why the move was best for the organization. Coach Kenny Atkinson also sat down with several players to make sure the reason for the transactions was understood, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays.

“The plan going forward is to always inform these guys of important decisions like that, change of roster,” Atkinson said before adding that he feels the team will accept Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas.

“I think it’ll be a seamless transition,” the coach continued. “They’ll accept these two new guys and the plan for the future is to have a better Nets team going forward. That was the goal. I’m glad we explained it to the players. That’s the type of organization we want, with open communication with the players.”

Here’s more from Brooklyn:

  • DeMarre Carroll, who arrived in Brooklyn during the offseason, explained how the Nets‘ approach impacted his feelings on the transactions, Lewis adds in the same piece. “We were devastated,” Carroll said of losing the two veterans. “They were like one of our brothers, both of them, SK, Sean Kilpatrick and Trevor. But they came to talk to us and try to make us see the bigger picture, see why they did the trade.”
  • Carroll added (in the same piece) that he feels the two former lottery picks will be able to understand the culture and fit right in. “I feel like that’ll be easy, because if you don’t fit in you’ll stick out like a sore thumb in this [culture],” the small forward said.
  • Okafor is motivated to prove himself after two-plus uninspiring seasons in Philadelphia, Zach Braziller of the New York Post passes along. “I have a chip on my shoulder,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”