Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving flatly denied getting Kenny Atkinson fired. And as far as newly hired replacement Steve Nash, both described Brooklyn’s current situation as more of a collaborative effort than a head coach.
In the second part of Irving’s interview on “The ETCs with Kevin Durant” podcast released Thursday, the teammates had some eye-opening comments. First, they pushed back against the narrative that they sabotaged Atkinson. Then they made it clear they’ll want significant input with his replacement, from whom they expect more collaborations than commands.
“First off, I want to give a shoutout to Kenny Atkinson. Some people came out and were like ‘Ky and KD got Kenny fired.’ Look, that was completely false. Listen, Kenny was great for the group that he served and I was very appreciative of what he was giving us throughout the season when we were playing,” Irving said. “We always heard and saw how great Nash was as a player; but also when you get to know him as a person, you understand why he can coexist with us.
“We don’t need someone to come in with their coaching philosophy, change everything we’re doing, change up the wheel, and we’re going to start running on the first day of practice. No; I want somebody that’s going to understand that I’m a human being first, I serve my community first. And then basketball is something I come and do every day because I love…That’s no disrespect to Kenny or any coaches I played (for). It’s just Steve coming in at this moment and following up with putting together a great coaching core was going to make us more successful.”
Nash’s relationships with Durant and GM Sean Marks landed him the Nets job despite a lack of experience. He’s going to have to learn how to be a head coach, with a big part of that learning how to handle stars. This could be the first lesson, with both Durant and Irving expecting to be back from major surgeries and anticipating having a lot of say in matters.
“It’s going to change the way we see coaches. I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Irving said. “KD could be a head coach; I could be a head coach.”
Durant agreed. He said lead assistant Jacque Vaughn – who was 7-3 as interim coach and led Brooklyn to the playoffs despite both stars being hurt – could essentially be the head coach for a play, or a quarter or even a night.
“Jacque Vaughn could be a head coach, could do it one day,” Durant said. “It’s a collaborative effort on our part.”
Hearing Irving and Durant say the Nets don’t have a head coach is going to raise antennas and set off alarms, especially after both have had their leadership skills doubted, if not outright mocked.
It’s not a criticism that has escaped Durant’s notice.
“A lot of people may question our leadership, overall or just us two,” Durant admitted. “But when me and Ky talked about being coached every single day, that’s leading by example.
“A lot our teammates are going to follow suit once they see we’re getting coached and continue to ask questions about the game. Having Steve there and collaborating with our floor general every day is only going to yield good results.”
Irving said he’s healthy and ready to go after shoulder surgery that ended his season after just 20 appearances. He added that for the first time he’ll feel comfortable and confident in a teammate taking the final shot.
The Nets have interviewed draft prospects Desmond Bane, Jalen Smith, Tyrell Terry, Precious Achiuwa and Isaiah Joe.
Durant was seventh and Irving 12th among the most popular jerseys during the restart, based on sales at the NBA Store website. Neither Brooklyn nor the Knicks cracked the top 10 as a team.
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