Never mind what the NBA calendar said. The Nets’ season didn’t really start in earnest until March 1, when point guard Jeremy Lin resumed a regular role after recovering from injuries that cost him 45 games.
That’s how Lin feels, and it’s safe to say most Nets fans would agree. “Honestly, what I remember about the season is March on,” Lin said on Thursday as the Nets wrapped up their NBA-worst 20-62 season. “All that other stuff is like a blur now. I just remember playing with the guys at the end and how much fun that was, how much progress we made. But the more I think about it, it was really tough at times.”
After Lin suffered his second hamstring injury on Dec. 26, the Nets endured a 1-27 stretch. Lin took part in the final two losses, but starting with a win in Sacramento on March 1 that broke a 16-game losing streak, the Nets went 11-12 in their next 23 games before resting Lin, Brook Lopez and Trevor Booker in their season-ending loss to the Bulls.
That near-.500 stretch was the Nets’ season in a nutshell, their one chance to evaluate the “Brook-Lin” pairing over a consistent stretch. “I’d say the thing we really did was we established an identity,” Lin said. “We started to figure out who we were, what was going to be our recipe for success. It’s hard to build an identity when you’re not seeing the results, but I felt like in the last stretch we were able to really figure out, ‘Hey, this is our blueprint.’ ”
Lopez described not only his season but the team’s as “transformative.” Obviously, the Nets underwent a culture change directed by first-year general manager Sean Marks and rookie coach Kenny Atkinson. No one changed more dramatically than Lopez, who turned himself into a modern “stretch five,” a center who can spread the defense by knocking down three-pointers.
By proving he could fit into Atkinson’s system, Lopez enhanced his long-term value to the franchise. “I don’t know about value or anything like that,” Lopez said. “I’m happy to be here, like I’ve said time and again. I hope just with my off-the-court attributes, the way I’ve led, the way I’ve helped other players grow, I hope those were characteristics that really showed how important I am to this group.”
Lopez acknowledged that the time he and Lin spent together on the court was a “small sample size,” but they showed promise at the end of the season. “The way I like to look at it,” Lopez said, “I think we grew so much in that small time. I think the sky’s the limit for us.”
The fact that Lin missed so much time with injuries has given rise to speculation that the Nets will be in the market for a veteran point guard and that Lin might be asked to move off the ball.
“I just met with them, and the only thing I can say regarding all of that is we are in great communication, me, Sean, Kenny,” Lin said. “I know exactly what they’re thinking. They know exactly what I’m thinking, and we’re all on board with each other. I completely trust what they’re doing and everything they laid out. There’s no issues at all with my communication with them.”
Lin signed with the Nets to finally have a chance to be a regular starting point guard, but he doesn’t mind sliding over to shooting guard as a change of pace. More important, he still expects to fill the same leadership role.
“I know the role they want me to have,” Lin said. “They want me to be the guy, they want the ball in my hands. So I don’t really struggle with that . . . They’ve never wavered from that.”