Kenny Atkinson recalls the moment on June 30 when he learned officially that he’d be coaching Kevin Durant.
“I [was] naturally skeptical,” Atkinson confessed to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan for a story that ran Thursday. Despite the Woj Bomb at 4:52 p.m. and even the Instagram post at six o’clock, the Nets head coach noted that KD had never visited HSS Training Center, never spoken with him or Sean Marks about his decision ... at least not directly.
The Nets even had a white board set up with Plans A, B, C and D, ready for all possibilities. Brooklyn believed, correctly, that they were in lead position with Kyrie Irving but were uncertain about Durant. In fact, they had expected to do a conference call with Durant later that evening. Instead, KD skipped the prelims and went right to the title bout.
“Even when I saw it,” Atkinson said of the Instagram post, “I didn’t believe it. Durant is going to leave Golden State? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
Then, Sean Marks took a call on his cell phone, MacMullan wrote. The GM engaged in a brief conversation with Rich Kleiman, Durant’s agent. He then turned to his head coach, beaming.
”It’s true,” Marks said. Whooping, hollering and screaming commenced.
An hour later, Durant arrived and Atkinson, as MacMullan wrote, dutifully went into his prepared recruiting spiel .... even though KD was now a done deal.
“I’m talking to KD and he’s looking around at our facility and saying, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. What a view of the city!’” Atkinson told MacMullan.
Caris LeVert told “The Jump” a similar story Wednesday. He had been “in the crib”\ when the news broke. Irving looked good, he knew, but KD remained a bit of mystery. Now, what Woj had described as a “clean sweep” was complete.
After the realization had fully set in, a group text was organized so everyone could share contact information.
“Obviously, we were all very excited and can’t wait to get going.”
Meanwhile out in the middle of the Pacific, according to MacMullan’s account, Steve Kerr was lounging on an Hawaiian beach, reading a book. He had deliberately left his cell phone in his room at the beach report where he and his family were staying. He didn’t want to be disturbed, but disturbed he was. His plan didn’t work.
As MacMullan recounted, Kerr became momentarily lost in the text of his book, until a 30-something man not 30 feet away, suddenly screeched.
“Oh my god!” The man exclaimed to his buddy, not realizing the Warriors coach was so close. “KD is going to the Nets!”
Atkinson realizes that the burden of managing the egos of Durant and Irving —previously the job of Kerr and Brad Stevens— will be on his shoulders now, as will the pressure to win ... now.
“We know our path will be different,” Atkinson told MacMullan. “It’s part of the evolution of our franchise and my own personal evolution.
”It would be great to think the ‘little engine that could’ can win it all, but the consensus is ‘No, you have to have top talent to win.’
”So, now our job is, ‘How do we keep [Durant and Irving] here without compromising our culture?’ It’s a great challenge for us to figure out. Who wouldn’t want this opportunity?”
- ‘You can’t plan beyond next year’: Coaching in an NBA where stars call the shots - Jackie MacMullan - ESPN