Kevin Durant has not played in a game with the Brooklyn Nets and will wait until next season to debut with his new team, but the two-time NBA Finals MVP may have already played a major role in shaping the direction of the franchise.
The Nets announced on Saturday that they have mutually parted ways with Kenny Atkinson, but all indications have been that the coach was pushed out after failing to connect with his new star players. Kyrie Irving is said to have “soured” on Atkinson early on, and Durant was reportedly less than thrilled with the coach as well.
According to a new report from Shams Charania and Alex Schiffer of The Athletic, Atkinson told his players and staff after last Wednesday’s 39-point blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that it was time for everyone to air their grievances. A spirited team meeting followed, and Durant spoke up about the bad habits he has seen and told the Nets they were not showing the proper traits needed to become a title contender. As The Athletic described, Durant’s lecture may have been the “most critical thing” that happened in the meeting.
Like Irving, Durant reportedly never made a connection with Atkinson. You could argue that it would be difficult for him to do that without playing, but watching from a distance may have given Durant an even better understanding of how things were going. Apparently Durant didn’t like what he saw, and The Athletic reports that there was a “growing belief that (Durant and Irving) did not have interest in playing for (Atkinson) when this team is whole again next season.”
The Nets were doing well and had improved each year under Atkinson before Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan arrived. It’s obvious that the dynamic changed once the superstars established themselves, and Atkinson even seemed to acknowledge that.
Now, the Nets have the difficult task of trying to find a coach who can connect with some high-maintenance stars while also developing younger players. They seemed to understand that they were taking that risk when they signed Irving.