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Kenny Atkinson: Kevin Durant will be big part of team while rehabbing

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Atkinson says it’s premature —at this point— to speculate on whether or not Kevin Durant will play this season, telling WFAN’s Mike Francesa “It’s way too early. We’re still in the evaluation process. Our performance team is still evaluating and working with him. We’ll see how that goes.”

But, the head coach adds, the Nets will be integrating him into the team’s system throughout the season, that he has too much basketball knowledge not to.

“I know I need his basketball acumen around and his leadership,” Atkinson said on WFAN Thursday. “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.”

As for what the Nets system will look like, without KD, early in the season, the Nets head coach doesn’t anticipate much change from last year’s offense.

“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, who then talked about how he could use KD when he returns from his achilles rupture.

”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...

“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.

Atkinson spoke as well about other additions, both veterans and rookie Nic Claxton who he likened to a young Chris Bosh.

Of Irving, Atkinson said he won’t be bound by what happened last season in Boston.

“We never pre-judge guys,” he noted. “We have heard it with other players that have come into our program. 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 combination, he hopes will open things up for his returning players, noting how “When those big dogs walked in our facility, there were big smiles on their face as well as the coaching staff,”

”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.”

Atkinson said as well that he expects Irving and Durant, whenever he returns, will want to be coached. The great ones always do. He told Francesa as well that there will be new challenges for him in moving from development to going for it all. The Nets new veterans should help in that regard, he added.

“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...

“I can’t wait to build that trust [with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving].”

Nets CEO Brett Yormark was also on WFAN Thursday, talking about how the Nets will change with the addition or Durant and Irving, echoing many fans by saying “Obviously, it’s a surreal feeling.”

Yormark praised Atkinson and Sean Marks for making Brooklyn “destinational” for free agents.

“They have done an incredible job. Are we satisfied? Absolutely not! Do we have a lot of work? Sure we do! But is it a big first step for us? Absolutely!” said the veteran Nets executive who’s going into his 15th season with the Nets.

Even before the addition of the two superstars, Yormark said he began to see changes, noting that in the playoffs last year, he saw for the first time “a fanbase that was truly rooted in Brooklyn. something that wasn’t manufactured, something that was authentic and real. And for those fans, I’m just thrilled that we’ve been able to deliver at a very high level.”

In talking about how Marks and Atkinson have moved the Nets forward in a relatively short period of time, Yormark admitted that “we sell hope and vision on the business side all the time” and that last year’s playoff team and “recent developments” had helped show progress and validated the rebuild.

Yormark also compared the Nets now with the Nets in 2013 when they brought in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

“We all knew when we made that move for KG and Pierce it was a short window and we needed to take advantage of that window,” Yormark told the Carlin, Maggie & Bart show. Now, let me take a step back, what Sean and Kenny have built here is foundational. We weren’t looking for a one hit wonder. This was something we wanted to be sustainable over time. It think the fans saw this and this is something very different. from what we saw a few years ago.”

Yormark reiterated that the Nets season ticket sales are at an all-time high, adding that even before the Nets signings of Durant and Irving, they were moving in that direction. Now, the Nets have exploded in a lot of different ways.

“Just to give you a sense of how things are happening in the marketplace, our Instagram followers since June 30 have increased over 100,000,” he noted. “We’re getting jersey orders from over 14 countries around the world. So when you think about our business, it’s not just season tickets. It’s not just regionally or domestically. This has become a global story and it’s very, very exciting.”