Net gain: Atkinson likes direction team is headed, but wants more

Kenny Atkinson expects the Nets to take more steps in a positive direction next season.

Lost in the story of their first-round draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft being property of the Cleveland Cavaliers was this fact about the Brooklyn Nets:

They were the second-most improved team in the Eastern Conference from last season to this season, posting an eight-game improvement with a 28-54 finish after bottoming out the the worst record in the league two years ago at 20-62.

That having been said, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson is far from satisfied.

“An eight-game improvement, I think that was the second biggest in the East. I think Philly made a bigger improvement, we made the second-biggest improvement,” Atkinson said, adding with a rueful laugh, appearing on ESPN Radio in Richmond discussing the NBA Finals. “I do think we did start from the bottom, so we have to temper that a little, and understand we still have a long way to go.

“We have to take another step next year,” Atkinson, a former point guard for the University of Richmond, said.

One of the reasons Nets general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson was for his knack of developing players, which he did while serving as an assistant coach first in New York and then in Atlanta.

“Just from a personal level, I can’t tell you how much growth there’s been. Just learning the job, learning the league from a head coach perspective, managing a staff, managing 15 players,” Atkinson said. “Throw the G-League in there and understanding how that works and drafts and free agency, it’s just a different perspective when you’re a head coach.

“It took me a while to get to a comfort level. I’m much more comfortable now. More comfortable with the system we’re running, more comfortable with our players, understanding their strengths and weaknesses. So I’m pleased, but definitely not satisfied. I know personally I have a long way to go to get to the level of the elite coaches in this league.”

Headed into his third season at the helm, Atkinson will have point guard Jeremy Lin coming back from a knee injury, the emerging Spencer Dinwiddie is a finalist for the NBA Most Improved Player Award and Ohio State product D’Angelo Russell remains a talented, though inconsistent player.

“Our players, although we showed good individual improvement and team improvement, we have to take another step next year,” Atkinson admitted. “So our guys are in the gym, they’re working. We have a great offseason development program which we’re really proud of.

“I think you’ll see a better Nets team next year.”