The Nets opened up a much-anticipated campaign on Wednesday night against the woebegone Minnesota Timberwolves at Barclays Center. It did not go well for the home team as they lost 127-126 in overtime after Kyrie Irving’s missed shot denied them of a victory in the final play of the game.
Let’s give a mulligan for fourth-year Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on this one. Opening NIght can be a tricky proposition where anyone has a shot out of sheer luck and adrenaline.
But make no mistake. Losses like the season opener can’t keep happening this season. The Nets collected so many losses like that to the point questions were raised about Atkinson’s ability to coach a winning team. If the Nets repeat these same losses, those questions will resurface, and the Nets coach knows it.
Atkinson’s job is to make the Nets into NBA championship contenders, now that they signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the offseason and the players on the roster such as Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie had seasoning in recent years. He established a foundation where the Nets should play well and win their fair share of games.
Getting to the playoffs and winning a round won’t cut it this season for the Nets, even with Durant out for the season with an Achilles’ injury. They should be enough to get to the Eastern Conference Finals in what is a weak conference. With Irving on the Nets roster, it’s all they need.
This means Atkinson needs to cope and handle expectations. He must find a way to make sure his players are even-keel and trust the process of a long season. It’s on him to make sure his players are ready to go every game with the idea teams will give the Nets their best shot like in their season opener. Patience will be required for him.
He can start now by finding a way to have his players and his team get over this loss to a team they should not be losing at home despite them having Karl Anthony-Towns, which they lost because they missed 15 out of their 26 free throws.
The hopeless Knicks gives him a chance to get his team back in the right direction. There’s no excuse for the Nets to lose to that team, but then again there was no excuse to lose to the Timberwolves at home, and they did.
Bet on the Knicks to give the Nets their best shot since they have something to prove. All teams will, so Atkinson’s job is to have the Nets be ready to go. That didn’t seem to be the case against the Timberwolves. The Nets played like they played when they want to, which they showed up to play in the second half rather than from the start. They failed to match the Timberwolves’ intensity of getting loose balls and rebounds. They relied on talent rather than hard work to get a win.
Great coaches make it a point to have their team bring it every night. Atkinson continues to have that trouble. Too many times last season, the Nets played when they felt like it. They would play at the level of a team inferior to them with the idea they can win ugly and survive.
They also blew so many leads that turned into losses. That’s on Atkinson to have these guys be in a position to succeed and run up plays to have them make plays in the fourth quarter. A great coach tend to be a calming presence in the huddle and keep these guys focused.
Atkinson has to find a way to make this team from above average to elite. That’s not easy for a coach whose task was to build a team and make them competent when he was first hired. The hardest job for a coach is to take a team from Point B to Point C after taking a team from Point A to Point B.
No one knows if he can do that. It’s no longer just getting to the playoffs. It’s about being a title contender. It could be the Nets may have to hire another coach that can get it done. Right now, Nets ownership and Nets general manager Sean Marks trust their head coach to be that guy.
It remains to be seen if Atknson can do it. He raises so many questions based on his coaching last season. For some reason, he couldn’t come up with plays or stops to end the tide. His players tend to panic rather than be confident. Having Irving should help, but then again, the Nets lost, and he couldn’t come through when it mattered.
Enjoy Irving’s game-high 50 points all you want, but it means nothing after a loss, especially when he missed the game-winning shot. Atkinson could have used his point guard to make the game-winning play to offset this awful performance or get him off the crosshairs for one game.
Fair or not, this becomes Atkinson’s problem since he is the coach of the team. If the team underachieves, he becomes the target of Nets fans for everything that goes wrong. It wasn’t like he earned anyone’s confidence heading into this season.
No one says he is in danger of losing his job. Marks collaborates with Atkinson so well, and he does not want to work with anyone else, but Nets owner Joseph Tsai demands results with the money he spent.
Losses like Wednesday night can’t be tolerated anymore.