Kenny Atkinson: We Need Durant's Leadership This Year


Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has some new weapons at his disposal and a team that looks ready to take the New York basketball world by storm for the next couple of years. 

Atkinson joined WFAN's Mike Francesa to talk about his new-look squad that includes Kevin Durant, who will likely be out the entire 2019-2020 season as he rehabs his ruptured achilles. 

"I know I need his basketball acumen around and his leadership," Atkinson said on WFAN. "First and foremost is his rehab and getting that right. We are going to use him. We might have to give him an assistant coach's salary. You need to use guys like that. We're going to need his leadership this year. I know I have talked to him about it. He's excited about that. We have already started our conversations. 

"You're not going to hear me say hey don't shoot the midrange, because he shoots at maybe the best level in the league. Three pointers, finishing at the rim, the whole thing, he's just an extremely efficient player. 

How will Atkinson get Durant in the picture exactly and what will his role be when he returns? 

"The first part is to figure out this year's team and how we're going to play. I don't expect it to change a whole heck of a lot," said Atkinson. "I have a ton of things in my mind how we can use Kevin to his best abilities. He can play all five positions. When Kyrie is out, you can play him at the point. He's maybe the best wing scorer, him and LeBron, in our era. It's going to be exciting to try and fit him in into these different spots and use him as well as we can." 

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson talks with guard Allen Crabbe during a game against the Hawks on March 9, 2019, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. USA TODAY Images

Kyrie Irving will play this year and he'll play a huge role at point guard for the Nets. 

"We never pre-judge guys. We have heard it with other players that have come into our program," Atkinson said. "Until you coach them, I'm not going to judge that part of it. He fits perfectly in our system. We push the pace. Great left-hand finisher. I think what your average fan maybe underrates is his shooting. The guy is a great, great shooter. His shooting numbers are amazing. Off the dribble and on the catch and shoot, another excellent shooter." 

The Nets were already a playoff team, but when Durant and Irving entered the picture, the rest of the team could not be more thrilled. 

"When those big dogs walked in our facility, there were big smiles on their face as well as the coaching staff," Atkinson told Francesa. "They know how much easier they're gonna make their lives. Joe Harris, how much more open he'll be. Dinwiddie supporting Kyrie off the bench and then playing together with him. I think these guys realize, man this is a real opportunity. I think they're proud that players of such caliber and have chosen to play with them. They're excited." 

Having two star players like that means Atkinson is going to have to be a strong-minded coach. 

"I think you do have to challenge your best players. I do think they want to be coached. I think it is more of a partnership. We brought DeAndre Jordan on and Garrett Temple, who have stellar reputations as far as locker room presence. I think bringing in guys like that, that are really good players, proven players in this league, I think those guys are going to help too in terms of leadership opportunities. I know that this is a different challenge for me as a coach. I'm looking forward to it." 

The Nets are going to be an intriguing team to watch with these two studs in the fold. Adding Jordan, Temple, Taurean Prince and rookie Nic Claxton makes this team pretty deep, young and dynamic. 

You can hear the entire conversation with Francesa and the Nets head coach in the audio player above.