Nets hire Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as new coach

NEW YORK (AP) Kenny Atkinson has become one of the NBA's most respected assistant coaches, helping the Atlanta Hawks to their best season ever.

The Brooklyn Nets think he's ready to run his own team.

The Nets hired Atkinson as their new coach on Sunday, bypassing the type of big names they've targeted for the bench in Brooklyn and turning to someone experienced with developing winning programs gradually.

''Aside from his tremendous skills and experience, he has the mindset we need to build a winning team day by day, step by step,'' owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement. ''Together, we can do great things.''

Atkinson will remain with the Hawks until their season ends. The Nets said a press conference will be held at a date to be determined.

Resisting a lengthy coaching search and the allure of coaches such as Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, new general manager Sean Marks chose Atkinson for his first big move since taking over the Nets in February.

''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,'' Marks said.

The Nets fired second-year coach Lionel Hollins in January with the team off to a 10-27 start. Under interim coach Tony Brown, Brooklyn went on to finish 21-61 - its worst showing since the 2009-10 season and the second-worst mark in the Eastern Conference.

Atkinson will be the Nets' sixth coach in five seasons. He may not be as familiar to fans as Avery Johnson, Jason Kidd and Hollins, the previous head coaches in Brooklyn, but those within the NBA believe he is the right choice.

''I'm very happy for Kenny and excited that he's earned the opportunity to be a head coach,'' Budenholzer said. ''His competitiveness, knowledge and feel for the game, and passion for player development are all at a high level and will serve him well as a head coach.''

Before coming to Atlanta, Budenholzer was a long-time assistant with the Spurs. Marks also has ties to San Antonio as a player, assistant coach and front officer staffer.

''The Nets have a very strong foundation to build on,'' Budenholzer said.

Atkinson's stock rose as the Hawks climbed to prominence a year ago, setting a franchise record with 60 wins and reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time. They slipped this season but still claimed a No. 4 seed, opening the playoffs with home-court advantage in the first round.

Before that, the New York native spent for seasons with the Knicks, mostly under D'Antoni, and helped them to a pair of playoff appearances after a seven-year drought.

The Hawks hold a 1-0 lead over the Boston Celtics after winning the series opener Saturday night, which means Atkinson will be with Atlanta for at least another 10 days. That could stretch on much longer, of course, as long as the team keeps winning.

''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 said.

A native of nearby Huntington, New York, on Long Island, the 48-year-old Atkinson starred at Richmond then played professionally in Europe. He also coached the Dominican Republic in last year's FIBA Americas tournament and has been an assistant for the Ukraine.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.