INDIANAPOLIS — The Nets enter Wednesday’s season opener against the Pacers just as curious as they are confident.
Last season’s finish and this summer’s additions have them convinced they’re better than the team that went an NBA-worst 20-62. But the proof is in the production, and the Nets are itching to show they really have improved — and how much.
Perhaps no Net wants to scratch that itch more than Jeremy Lin, whose hamstring woes marred his first year in Brooklyn and derailed the team’s season.
“I’m excited to have a healthy Jeremy and see what that looks like over 82 games, but I’m also curious and excited to see what this team’s going to look like,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “That’s the biggest thing for the fans. The fans are like, ‘Who’s going to be good in this league? Who’s going to surprise?’ That’s really the fun part, and throw me in the mix because I’m curious, too.”
After many gave up their summers to put in sweat equity in the gym together, count the Nets players just as curious. Coming off a horrid campaign, they admit the bar has been raised. They’re champing at the bit to try and reach it.
“Yeah. Heck, yeah. Shoot, we’ve been here [all summer]. I’ve seen this facility. There are days where I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get some games.’ I can’t wait. For sure, curiosity, excitement,” said Lin, who insists he’s completely healthy and aims to cut down his turnovers as he jells with new backcourt mate D’Angelo Russell.
“Last year there were a lot of restrictions … we don’t have any of that right now. I can just have a free mind and just go and be myself. The whole team is excited, not just for me healthy but all the new pieces, all the new faces.”
Just having Lin healthy is cause for excitement. Hamstring woes limited him to just 36 games last season.
With everybody healthy — last year’s full roster wasn’t available until March, and that lasted a single game — the Nets are tantalized by 2017-18.
“For me, it’s going to be intriguing,” general manager Sean Marks told The Post. “Knock on wood we’ve got a healthy Jeremy, because he didn’t really get to run on all cylinders last year. So to me it’s what do we have with him?
“How do he and D’Angelo pair up? How does Caris [LeVert] fit into that equation? How does now having a shooter like Allen Crabbe, an elite NBA shooter, in the fold, how does it change Jeremy’s game? … We’ll see how all that develops.”
Marks traded for Russell, Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll this offseason, all shooters who will benefit from Lin’s drives, and all aimed at helping solve Brooklyn’s biggest Achilles’ heel. With six newcomers added to the mix, the Nets finally get to test themselves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“[I’m] very excited. It has a first-day-of-school feeling,” Russell said. “Everybody wants to get out there for real now, so I’m definitely excited.”
That excitement started to build late last season, when the Nets rebounded from a wretched 9-47 first half with an 11-15 finish in the wake of Lin’s return. The point guard said it buoyed the Nets’ confidence to have their faith rewarded.
“It definitely showed us [we can play],” Lin said. “I actually believe we’ve been doing the right thing even when I was hurt. All these other guys have been doing the right thing, the right way; and sometimes you just need to see it work.
“You just need to see progress. That’s enough to keep you going. That’s the inspiration you need. That’s what we all needed at the end of last season, to see all the work we’ve been putting in can result in a positive outcome. … I just can’t wait to play and I want to be the best version of me and help this team be the best version of this team.”
They start finding out how good that is on Wednesday night.