The media horde crushed around Jeremy Lin, cameras and microphones inches from his face as he answered questions about how he was going to save this team, if he could possibly bring Linsanity back to New York, and his broader responsibility to the large local Asian community.
A player unaccustomed to that sort of thing could shrink back, offer platitudes and clipped responses. A player such as Lin — who hasn’t been a starter for the last three seasons — could balk at the added pressure. But in his introduction as the Nets new starting point guard Wednesday, Lin did none of those things.
For 10 minutes, he was candid about his expectations and mistakes, and said he was committed to taking on his added responsibilities. “I believe in what we’re capable of becoming,” he said, quickly establishing that the Nets didn’t just get a point guard, they got an ambassador.
“I was thinking of free agency as like when you invest in a startup company,” said Lin, who signed on for three years, $36 million. “You don’t necessarily look at the product right then and there. That’s a big part of it, but you’re kind of betting on the founder a lot of times . . . I feel like that’s kind of how this is. I’m betting on certain people. I’m betting on Kenny [Atkinson]. I’m betting on Sean [Marks], I’m betting on myself, I’m betting on Brook Lopez.”
In a news conference at their Brooklyn training center Wednesday afternoon, the Nets officially introduced six of their newest signings: Lin, Anthony Bennett, Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert, their first-round pick in this year’s draft. And even without Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez and Randy Foye — all new additions who could not attend — the magnitude of this overhaul was clear.
What’s less clear is how long this rebuilding process will take. LeVert, who’s had three foot surgeries in two years, just started running on the treadmill Wednesday. Bennett spent last season with the Raptors’ D-League affiliate and, though often considered a draft bust, impressed this year with his performance with Team Canada. Hamilton is a journeyman who spent last year playing with Valencia, a team in Spain’s top division. Harris had season-ending surgery last season, got traded to the Magic, and was immediately waived.
Even Lin, who averaged 14.6 points with the Knicks in his first full season, only started 13 games with the Charlotte Hornets last year, averaging 11.7 points and 3.0 assists over 78 games.
Marks and Atkinson believe this team can work with the system the Nets have in mind. It’s one, Atkinson said, based on small egos, lots of ball sharing, and team defense. Nearly every player is considered to have an untapped upside and, in Lin’s case, that upside has already shown what it can do in a New York market. It’s a new route for the Nets, who in previous years were championship or bust.
“I think it’s going to be progress throughout the season,” Marks said. “I think Kenny is going to be able to bring the best out of those guys, and all these guys have come here to win, that’s the bottom line . . . They want to win and they want to compete here every night, so that’s what we’re going to be seeing from the vets and they’ll be taking the younger guys with them.”
And a good portion of that responsibility falls on Lin, who famously had his best year with the Knicks, where Atkinson was an assistant under Mike D’Antoni. Lin, Atkinson said, was on his radar from about the moment he took the Nets job.
That said, don’t quite expect a return to Linsanity.
“People will always kind of compare me to that,” Lin said, adding that it’s only recently that he’s learned to appreciate it. “In a lot of ways, not in a negative way or a way that I am offended, but it kind of dehumanizes me to refer to me as a phenomenon. I am going to be here, keep playing my game, do the best that I can and whatever you guys want to call it, that is up to you guys.”
But a few extra fans cheering him on at Barclays Center wouldn’t hurt, right?
“Hey man, if anybody here needs a team to root for, feel free to join the Nets fan base and come root for us. I would love to bring as many people as we can to this organization and hopefully we’ll be able to create that following and that momentum and that environment that we would love to have.”