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Kevin Durant inspires Nets as his rehab progresses, Kenny Atkinson says

Nets forward Kevin Durant tosses the ball during

Nets forward Kevin Durant tosses the ball during a time out against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Halfway through his first season with the Nets, superstar Kevin Durant has established himself as a major presence within the team structure even though he hasn’t played while recovering from right Achilles tendon surgery and largely has remained in the background. At least, that’s the way coach Kenny Atkinson described it when asked for an update on Durant’s progress before the Nets faced the Bucks Saturday night at Barclays Center.

“He’s progressing,” Atkinson said. “I know he’s working extremely hard. He’s a quiet personality, but when he needs to say something, he says it. Usually, what he says is spot-on. We don’t want to bother him too much because he’s locked in to his rehab. He’s a guy who likes to work in the shadows. He doesn’t want all the attention. That’s what I see.

“When he walks in the room, we all become more confident even though he’s not playing. It’s just that way. I enjoy talking to him about the game and his opinions about what’s going on in the league. It’s a real treat for me to have a guy like that around and for our players. They love it. He’s around all the time, so, it’s great.”

Pushed to calculate the possibility of Durant returning this season, Atkinson said the Nets are sticking to their preseason projection that he will miss the entire season. “No, I think we’re all on the same page,” Atkinson said. “That’s not going to happen. It’s great when you’re there every day. You see incremental progress.”

Although the Nets had won only two of their previous nine games before the Bucks, Atkinson expects they will improve in the second half. “We’re not where we want to be right now, but I have great confidence we’re going to get there,” Atkinson said. “I really like our players, I like our roster, I trust them. As we get healthier, we’ll get better . . . confident we can get there in the future.”

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