LAS VEGAS — For three years, Nets general manager Sean Marks laid the groundwork to have the salary-cap room to be competitive at the top level of the 2019 free agent market while coach Kenny Atkinson developed the complementary pieces to attract star players. So imagine their shared horror while watching Kevin Durant suffer a ruptured right Achilles tendon during Game 5 of the NBA Finals in June.
Marks and Atkinson spoke to the media for the first time on Tuesday about the Nets’ recent acquisitions of Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, and they admitted their angst about seeing Durant go down with an injury that likely will cost him the entire 2019-20 season.
“I’m watching the game, and to see anybody go down and get hurt that’s devastating,” Marks said. “To happen at that moment, that time, irrespective of free agency . . . Now, I’d be lying, too, if I said it didn’t bother us at all. We were all taken aback. Now, we’ve got to dig into what does that look like for our franchise?”
Atkinson immediately began texting with Marks when Durant went down. “You know, geez, this could change things,” Atkinson said. “And then, we took a couple of deep breaths and obviously got more information and that made the decision easier.”
Durant headed from Toronto to New York where his Achilles injury was repaired by Dr. Martin O’Malley, who is part of the Nets’ medical team. Marks convened a meeting of the team’s performance staff to watch video of Durant’s injury and offer their advice on whether the Nets should commit on a four-year contract worth $164 million for a player who would sit out a year and possibly not return as the same player.
Summarizing the result of the meeting, Marks said, “The performance team voted, ‘Yup, we’re all in.’”
Marks said it still is too early to provide a timeline for Durant’s recovery. In fact, Durant, O’Malley and the Nets’ performance team met for the first time Monday for a full evaluation. “They got their hands on him and explained to him, this is what the program looks like,” Marks said. “I can’t speak for Kevin, but I assume there’s a level of comfort knowing Dr. O’Malley is in New York.”
Not only is Durant placing his faith in the Nets’ performance team, but so is owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who signed off on that investment as well as a four-year deal for Irving worth $141 million and a four-year contract for Jordan valued at $40 million.
“Kevin Durant is a unique talent in the NBA,” Prokhorov told Newsday. “We made a proposal to him that, both from the financial and the team culture point of view, was very attractive and are, of course, thrilled that he has decided to sign with the Nets.
“I am confident that he has an excellent prognosis for a full recovery. The skills that Kevin has can’t be taught and are a true rarity even at the elite level of NBA basketball. And those skills will be with him for many years to come.”
Although the Nets must cope with Durant’s injury and rehab, all their perfectly laid plans came to fruition on June 30 when free-agent negotiations opened. Irving was expected to sign with the Nets, but Marks said he was watching for Durant to post his decision on Instagram.
“He came in that night,” Marks said. “We ended up having an in-person meeting. He came over to the facility. Kenny talked about how he wants to use him and how he would play and the style of play. It was pretty evident in terms of his excitement and the look on his face and the expressions that he had come to a decision pretty quickly.”
Describing what it meant to land Durant, Irving and Jordan, Atkinson added, “I used the word ‘humbled’ that guys of that caliber would choose to play with us. That’s a real credit to our improvement over the years. So, we’re proud of that.”