Kenny Atkinson evidently isn’t getting caught up in Kyrie Irving’s superstar status.
The Nets made quite the splash on the open market, acquiring both Irving and Kevin Durant on the very first day of free agency. Brooklyn likely won’t see much, if any, of Durant in the 2019-20 season, however, as the star forward currently is recovering from a torn Achilles suffered June 10.
With Durant out of the fold, most would expect Irving to totally run the show. Brooklyn’s coach appears to have other plans, as he recently noted he doesn’t expect the Nets’ system to change a ton despite the team adding the wildly talented, play-making guard. Smith believes Atkinson didn’t do himself any favors with those comments.
“Huge mistake on Atkinson’s part and here’s why: Leading up to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant electing to land in Brooklyn, the news was — and I reported on this — the two guys the Knicks, the Nets, everybody was willing to take by themselves was Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard,” Smith said Wednesday on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.” “If you wanted Kyrie Irving, if you wanted Kemba Walker it would be in concert with one of those guys joining them, ok? So by Atkinson saying what he just said, essentially what he said was, ‘Look, you ain’t the creme de la creme. You ain’t the prize we ultimately wanted.’ It was Kevin Durant, because you didn’t see him utter these words about Kevin Durant. Now, Kevin Durant is home in bed somewhere with his leg laid up because he’s got his Achilles tear. You didn’t see him utter a challenging word at Kevin Durant’s direction. Why? Because he’s truly the franchise player.
“Kyrie Irving is a show. He’s a special, special talent, make no mistake about it. But coming off the year he had in Boston, there are some questions about him as a leader. There’s some questions about whether or not you want him as the face of a franchise and Kenny Atkinson essentially went about the business of publicly admitting that before this man even showed up to training camp. That is not smart, because remember, Kyrie is Kevin Durant’s boy. And if you alienate Kyrie Irving prematurely, you have alienated Kevin Durant prematurely, which the Nets should not want to do.”
Atkinson also noted he plans on having a “meeting of minds” with Irving in hopes of figuring out the best way to utilize the six-time All-Star within an already talented Brooklyn team. That’s all fine and good, but Irving and Celtics coach Brad Stevens reportedly chopped it up quite a bit over the course of this past season, which was littered with frustration in Boston. In other words, Atkinson probably shouldn’t bank on things going according to plan with Irving, who’s proved to be one of the more polarizing players in the league.
For the sake of the Nets’ long-term investment, Atkinson might be best served to tread lightly with Irving.
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