Things are more than dire in Brooklyn. With one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history the Nets have managed to render their roster completely depleted and to give their first-round picks until 2019 to their division rival Boston. This year’s Nets are easily the least talented team in the league and without any high draft picks they are unlikely to improve in the near future. But the awful Nets of these days have made many people forget that the finest hour of the team’s history is a mere 15 years away. The first article of our history series recalls how a Nets team led by Jason Kidd reached two consecutive NBA finals and had the chance to prevent Kobe’s three-peat.
The new age
Just like Brooklyn in 2016, the 2001 New Jersey Nets were a mess. They finished with only 26 wins, 24th in offensive and 23rd in defensive rating. Nonetheless, there was one bright spot: Point Guard Stephon Marbury played on a wholly different level from the rest of team. Averaging 24 points and 7.5 assists he made the All-Star as well as the All-NBA third team. In the summer, Marbury was dealt to Phoenix. What might have seemed like a questionable move at the time is now without doubt the move that flipped the script for the Nets. In return for Marbury they received an all-time great in the making: The 28-year-old Jason Kidd. Three years in a row Kidd led the league in assists and was selected to as many All-NBA first teams. But Kidd wasn’t the only promising piece on the Nets roster, Kenyon Martin, whom they had chosen with the top pick in 2000, just came off an All-Rookie campaign. They also had Forward Keith van Horn who had played solid in the late 90s and in this year’s draft they added Richard Jefferson. The pieces were in place for a new era in New Jersey.
The kings of the East
With Kidd as their floor general and a solid front line of Martin and van Horn the Nets came out of the summer completely reborn and soared to a 7-1 start. The change from the shaky Marbury to the stifling Kidd catapulted their defense from 23rd to first – a drastic improvement. Jefferson came off the bench and played his way to an All-Rookie nod. At the end of the season, New Jersey had achieved an incredible feat: They doubled their win total from 26 to 52 and topped the Eastern Conference standings. They struggled to get past the Reggie Miller led Pacers in the first round, but got away with a scare. After the Hornets in the second round, they had to overcome Paul Pierce’s Celtics in the Conference Finals. Within one year, New Jersey had gone from a sure-fire lottery team to representing the East in the Finals. Their opponents were none less than the Los Angeles Lakers of Kobe and Shaq. Four games later Kobe could crown himself champion for the third time in a row. Even though they lost, the Nets had established themselves among the elite of the league out of nowhere and the future was looking good.
As close as it gets
The 2003 regular season was a step back from a win perspective, Kidd and his team only won 49 games. They still comfortably made the playoffs though and played even better than the year before in the postseason. They swept two of the three first rounds, only giving up two games to Milwaukee, and return to the biggest stage well rested and in the form of their lives. This time they had to face the almighty Spurs and MVP Tim Duncan. The Nets certainly looked much better that year and after 4 games the series was tied. Unfortunately, they dropped the next two and made San Antonio champions for the second time. Today we know: They missed their last chance. New Jersey continued to play well, but couldn’t reach the Conference Finals again. In 2004, they traded for the Raptor’s Vince Carter in an attempt to revive their fading title hopes. Four years later Jason Kidd’s time as a Net came to an end and so did the most glorious era in Nets history. Kidd won a title with Dallas in 2011, crowning a Hall of Fame worthy career, but this Nets team remains a huge part of his legacy. When the franchise moved to Brooklyn they left behind their old home in East Rutherford, but what they took with them are the memories of an extraordinary Nets team that came very close to winning it all.