BOSTON — It’s time to get real for the Nets. Since February, they’ve undergone a makeover worthy of a reality series from new GM Sean Marks to new coach Kenny Atkinson to 10 new players, including Jeremy Lin in the role of starting point guard partnering with longtime franchise center Brook Lopez.
They want to believe all the hard work they’ve invested is going to result in a butterfly emerging from the cocoon they’ve inhabited the past several months. But they know expectations are low, and a huge uphill fight lies ahead.
No one faces greater pressure than Lin, who was a comet flaring across the Manhattan skyline in 2012 with the Knicks and a role player with three other teams since then until this opportunity arrived. Describing his emotions on Tuesday, Lin said, “A little bit of not nervousness but seriousness. It’s like I’m a little more locked in. It’s like for real now. I’m really excited. We’re just really ready to get going and see what it’s all about.”
Lopez said he and Lin adjusted to each other well during the preseason, and the team as a whole made progress learning the offensive and defensive systems installed by Atkinson. But the Nets understand they are a collection of young players and veteran free agents who lack a well-developed core compared to the Celtics and many teams they will face.
“We know we need to play within each other and be the team we can be,” Lopez said. “Obviously, we’re built differently than most of the other teams, and we know where our strengths lie.”
Last season, the Nets went 21-61 and ranked 29th of 30 teams in defense. So whatever optimism they developed working together over the summer must be tempered. Veteran forward Luis Scola said the true measure of success is if they improve from week to week throughout the season.
“We know we’re young, we know the team comes from 21 wins,” Scola said. “So we’re not expecting to be any winning record next year, but I do believe this team can compete. I do believe it can win a lot of games if we play hard, if we get better every day.”
In a sense, even Atkinson is a rookie sharing the same boat with his players. “Yeah, I mean, I guess we’re a little naïve,” the Northport native said. “We’re going in there enthusiastic. We love the opportunity to go into the Boston Garden against a really good team. What’s better than that? . . . I’m just excited to play a real game and start getting a feel for who we are and what our team is like.”
If attention to detail and a relentless work ethic mean anything, maybe the Nets can surpass the low bar most have set for them. That’s Lin’s belief.
“I think we’re going to be better than everybody else thinks we are,” Lin said. “I think we have good talent, and I think we play the right way and guys legitimately care for each other on this team.
“I keep referring to Portland last year, losing four or five starters, and guys just filled in. They had the ultimate team, and they completely overachieved. So it’s possible.”
Injured Foye to miss opener. Randy Foye, who started at two-guard most of the preseason, suffered a minor hamstring strain in practice on Tuesday and will miss the opener. Atkinson declined to name a starter.