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Pete McEntegart
October 29, 2001
The mending of fractured legs and of a fractious locker room offers hope that the worst is over for a hard-luck team
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October 29, 2001

12 New Jersy Nets

The mending of fractured legs and of a fractious locker room offers hope that the worst is over for a hard-luck team

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projected lineup

2000-01 record: 26-56 (sixth in Atlantic)

Coach: Byron Scott (second season with Nets)



2000-01 KEY STATS


Kenyon Martin


12.0 ppg

7.4 rpg

1.66 bpg

1.15 spg

44.5 FG%


Keith Van Horn


17.0 ppg

7.1 rpg

1.7 apg

0.82 spg

43.5 FG%


Todd MacCulloch#


4.1 ppg

2.7 rpg

0.30 bpg

58.9 FG%

63.6 FT%


Kerry Kittles?


13.0 ppg

3.6 rpg

1.27 spg

43.7 FG%

40.0 3FG%


Jason Kidd#


16.9 ppg

9.8 apg

6.4 rpg

2.16 spg

41.1 FG%



2000-01 KEY STATS


Aaron Williams


10.2 ppg

7.2 rpg

1.38 bpg

0.72 spg

45.7 FG%


Brandon Armstrong (R)#


22.1 ppg

1.5 apg

3.3 rpg

1.48 spg

44.7 FG%


Lucious Harris


9.4 ppg

3.9 rpg

1.8 apg

1.01 spg

42.5 FG%


Richard Jefferson (R)#


11.3 ppg

5.4 rpg

2.7 apg

0.80 bpg

47.9 FG%


Jason Collins (R)#


14.5 ppg

7.8 rpg

1.5 apg

1.26 bpg

61.3 FG%

#New acquisition

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)

?statistics for 1999-2000 season

*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

Jason Kidd has spent his seven-year NBA career in the Western Conference. In his first days as a Net he struggled to get out of bed at 7 o'clock because his body pleaded that it was still 4 a.m. This left-leaning orientation might explain why the San Francisco-born Kidd looks west in describing where he hopes to take his new team, which has long been overshadowed by its eastern neighbor, the Knicks. "We want to be like the Clippers," Kidd says. "It used to be you just mentioned one team in L.A., but now you have to mention two. The Clippers aren't going to sneak up on anyone. People know they're fighting for that seventh or eighth playoff spot. We want to follow in that same category."

Kidd should think twice about mentioning that motivation to a perennially skeptical Gotham media, which might be startled by the notion that any team should intentionally emulate the Clippers. Still, that doesn't make Kidd's comparison any less apt. Like the Clippers, the Nets have a long and sordid history of misfortune, from drug problems ( Micheal Ray Richardson) to car accidents ( Drazen Petrovic) to most notably an injury toll that defies rational explanation. Two starters ( Keith Van Horn and Kenyon Martin) broke legs last season to uphold a tradition of lower-limb travails started by Sam Bowie and perfected by Jayson Williams.

Yet like the Clippers, New Jersey has reason to believe that it has made the improvements needed to succeed. The big change is Kidd, a four-time All-Star point guard whom the Nets acquired from the Suns in June in a deal that sent Stephon Marbury, the Brooklyn-born point guard New Jersey had once hoped to build around, to Phoenix. While Marbury, is an explosive scorer, the 28-year-old Kidd is a pass-first type with the fourth-best assist average (9.4) in NBA history. Second-year coach Byron Scott informed Kidd that he would be the Nets' captain within minutes after Kidd arrived in town for training camp. That merely formalized New Jersey's expectation that Kidd will be its leader. "He's a great orchestrator on the floor," Scott says. "He pushes the ball when he needs to, he slows it down when he needs to. I expect him to do the same things he's done his whole career."

For a point guard, that means getting to know one's teammates, particularly those who can put the ball in the basket. Van Horn says that what most impressed him was that Kidd called each player by his first name at the first Nets practice he attended. That's no mean feat on this team, which will suit up just four players who took the court for New Jersey a year ago. That number includes Van Horn and Martin, two athletic forwards whose games should benefit most from Kidd's presence. Van Horn missed the first 32 games last season with a broken left fibula, and Martin's solid rookie season was ended by a fractured right fibula with 11 games remaining, but both arrived in camp healthy. Kerry Kitties returns from a longer absence: He missed all of last season after a fourth operation on his right knee. Kittles moved well while playing for the Nets' summer league team, and New Jersey hopes he can be close to the player who averaged 17.2 points in 1997-98.

Still, the Nets' most significant rehabilitation may be chemical rather than physical. While no one is publicly pointing a finger at Marbury, New Jersey's players clearly did not coexist well last year. "We didn't have the right mix," Scott says. "It's hard to work with people you don't enjoy being with." Says Van Horn, "I feel like I'm on a whole new team. Jason's very professional. He brings a great attitude, which was needed on this team. We're much more competitive, much more serious, much more focused than in years past."

Of course, optimism always abounds in October. Though he's new to the Nets, Kidd has been around long enough to know that the real trials await as surely as winter in the Northeast. "We have the talent to make some noise," Kidd says. "We're going to surprise some teams early on, but the good teams have to show up in January and February, when nobody's surprising anybody. That will be the real test for us."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]