A season after some middling results with the NBA's most expensive roster, the Brooklyn Nets are starting fresh this season with a new coach, a thinned-down payroll and -- they hope -- a stronger start.
Enter new coach Lionel Hollins, exit Jason Kidd, and the Nets will tip the season Wednesday night in Boston against a Celtics team hoping for improvement under second-year coach Brad Stevens.
Both teams are already dealing with injuries as Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo works his way back from a broken hand and Nets center Brook Lopez deals with a sprained foot. The status of both remains undetermined.
Brooklyn (44-38) entered 2013-14 with big-name newcomers and hopes of challenging Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy. What it got was a 10-21 start, a quick second-round exit against the Heat and one season out of Kidd before his offseason move to Milwaukee.
"I like the fact that everybody is talking about other teams," general manager Billy King told the team's official website. "Let us focus and do our work.
"Two years in a row, it was something we created ourselves. We beat our own drum. This year it's more of, let's just play basketball."
Hollins, who coached Memphis from 2008-13 and brought the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals in his last season, now takes over with a payroll that is still tops the league.
"I feel like he knows what he's doing," Lopez said. "He's going to keep his composure obviously and do his thing, regardless of when it's practice, shootaround, or game situation, playoff, finals, whatever. Lionel's Lionel. He does things his way."
Paul Pierce isn't a part of it after the veteran's July move to Washington, but Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett remain. Williams is trying to bounce back from ankle injuries that limited him to 64 games, Johnson is coming off an All-Star season and Garnett enters his 20th season with a more one-dimensional game centered around defense and rebounding.
Health concerns remain, particularly with Lopez, who was leading the Nets with a career-high 20.7 points per game when he broke his foot in December and was lost for the year. He sprained the foot during Brooklyn's preseason trip to China, and the Nets haven't said whether he'll play in the opener.
Brooklyn finished four games back in the Atlantic Division, which proved to be basketball's most winnable. Faring any better will likely require improvement on the road, where the Nets went 16-25 for the second-worst away record among playoff teams.
Trips to Boston haven't been as much of a struggle. The Nets are 3-1 there over the last two seasons as part of a 6-2 mark in the series since relocating to Brooklyn.
Rondo, who hasn't played since slipping in the shower and breaking a bone in his hand near the start of training camp, seems more likely to play than Lopez, though Stevens said his time could be limited to shorter stints as he tries to get into game shape.
Rondo joked he's at 83 percent and will decide his status after a pregame nap Wednesday.
"There's still a long way to go with conditioning," Rondo told the team's official website. "There's nothing like the real thing."
When he does reach his stride, he'll be running with some new faces -- most notably No. 6 overall pick Marcus Smart. Stevens is already pushing Smart to make plays after the rookie went 5 for 8 and scored 16 points in less than 16 minutes of last Wednesday's final preseason game -- a 100-86 win over Brooklyn.
"Coach has been telling me to be more aggressive, attack the rim and then take the 3-ball once you get warm," Smart said.
Free agent Evan Turner also joins the team, while small forward Jeff Green is coming off a career-best and team-high 16.9 points per game.
Boston also returns Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley, and nabbed James Young out of Kentucky with the No. 17 pick. Even so, Rondo isn't expecting a drastic turnaround.
"I know this isn't a championship team, but we're going to go out there every night and play hard," Rondo said.
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