New Jersey Nets
A bullish center in a finesse offense? A change for the better
By Chris Ballard
Team Page | Conference ranking: 1 | Overall ranking: 4
They don't seem like the most natural fit: free-agent signee Alonzo Mourning and the Princeton offense. Mourning is a 6'10" back-to-the-basket post man who in 10 NBA seasons has shown all the finesse of a bulldozer. New Jersey's everybody-gets-a-touch system, on the other hand, requires big men to handle the ball, make pinpoint passes and perform dribble handoffs.
The solution? Call it Camp Zo. A month before the rest of the Nets showed up for preseason training, Mourning began reporting at 11 every weekday morning. After an hour of workouts he would join coach Byron Scott and his assistants for 45 minutes of instruction in the offense. "It made all the difference," says Scott. "He would have been a month behind, but he came in every day and made a lot of progress."
Mourning, 33, doesn't feel quite acclimated yet. "I'm picking it up slow," he says. "I'm not accustomed to handling the ball this much. I've got to read the cuts more, and that dictates my movement." Mourning says he hasn't touched the ball this much so far from the basket since grade school. On top of that, he's quickly learning about -- and appreciating -- playing with compulsively unselfish point guard Jason Kidd. "You've got to be ready because he'll hit you with the ball at any moment," says Mourning, shaking his head. "I have to be prepared at all times."
The most important adjustment, of course, will involve Mourning's body. He missed all of last season because of focal glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease, and says he spent the summer working on his endurance. Entering the season, he was a rock-solid 259 pounds, though he expects his weight to drop as the season progresses. "I feel good," he says. "Whatever this team needs from me, I'll do it."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nets
"Alonzo Mourning gives them a scoring option in the half-court offense, which was their big weakness in the Finals whenever the Spurs shut down the running game. His health is going to be in question after he's missed essentially two of the last three seasons with kidney disease, but he looked very strong during the preseason. If he's at the top of his game in the playoffs, Mourning's scoring, shot blocking and rebounding will allow them to play at a slower playoff tempo and match up with the big teams in the West.... The other thing Mourning will do is demand a double team, which means Richard Jefferson has to hit jump shots because he's the man who will be left open. You couldn't ask for a better athlete running the floor for Jason Kidd in the transition game than Jefferson, but if they want to win a championship, they need to improve from the perimeter.... Kenyon Martin is looking for a new contract. Offensively he is similar to Jefferson: scores on the break, but not very dangerous in the half-court. Martin's range is from 15 feet in, and he shot 65.3 percent from the foul line last year -- skills that don't warrant a max deal. I don't see his contract becoming an issue, though; Mourning and Kidd won't let that happen. Besides, Martin is selling himself as a guy who plays hard, so if he wants the money, he has to continue being aggressive.... First-round pick Zoran Planinic from Bosnia and Herzegovina will give the team the supporting point guard it needs; Kidd is 30, and the Nets have to develop a backup to trim his minutes over the next few years. A lot of people were saying that Tony Parker outplayed Kidd in the Finals, but the big difference was that Parker had Tim Duncan to make him look better and Kidd had no one else to turn to. The Nets were in the Finals only because Kidd raised them to that level."
Issue date: October 27, 2003