Nets coach Kenny Atkinson defends decision to rest starters

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson knew exactly how it looked.

With the playoffs on the line for three Eastern Conference teams, the Nets chose to bring a knife to a gunfight.

Brooklyn, which had nothing to play for in the regular-season finale, made the unpopular decision to rest Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez and sit Quincy Acy (ankle), Joe Harris (shoulder) and Sean Kilpatrick (hamstring) against the Bulls.

It’s not an uncommon practice at this time of year, but it’s usually reserved for playoff teams that have nothing to lose in resting their starters.

But for a 20-win team, it’s not a good look for the league.

“I’m going to be honest with you,’’ Atkinson said. “As a competitor, I understand it. Like I understand the point of view that some of you have and that the press has, maybe other teams in this league. I do understand it, but we have to look at it from the Brooklyn Nets’ franchise perspective and what’s best for us, and that’s how we’re looking at it in a vacuum. I think that’s my responsibility as a coach, to look at it in that vein. But, that being said, I do understand it.’’

Atkinson said the Nets came into the finale playing better basketball the last month, and a lot of it had to do with Lopez and Lin finally being healthy and on the floor together.

Right or wrong, the Nets wanted to make sure they went into the offseason that way, as well as getting a feel for some of the younger guys on their roster.

“Listen, guys want to play 82 games, let’s face it,’’ Atkinson said. “But our guys, after talking to them, they completely understood it. They understand how important going into the offseason healthy is for us. You look at some of our players, they haven’t had healthy offseasons in the past. We need this group to be healthy, to be able to work, and we have a lot of room, obviously, for improvement. So it’s important to us.’’

The league will have to address this topic at some point in the offseason.

“I know they addressed it at the owners meetings,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know what came of that conversation. It’s obviously different dynamics: some teams getting ready for the playoffs and resting players and some teams are going into the summer making sure they’re healthy with their rosters.

“I’ll be as interested as anybody to see how these talks progress as far as how teams go about resting players. They talk about the national TV games, how important those are for the brand. There will be a lot of talks this summer. We’ll see how that plays out.’’

NOTES: After missing the last three games with a sprained right wrist, Rajon Rondo returned to the starting lineup.

† Dwyane Wade (right elbow) was still on a minutes restriction.

† Point guard Cameron Payne again was inactive.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.
Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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