Devin, Dennis, Mark and myself are joined by Nets Are Scorching founder, Fort Wayne Mad Ants Video Coordinator, and Grantland specialist Sebastian Pruiti.
1. Best NJ Nets team of all-time?
- Devin Kharpertian: 2001-02. I know that the 02-03 team had a better chance in the Finals, but I hold that 01-02 team very near and dear to my heart — Jason Kidd got laughed at for presuming the Nets would become a .500 team, and then they won… and won again… and again… and again. He turned a 26-56 laughingstock into a 52-30 contender. That team went from 23rd in defensive efficiency to first, and it came with startling roster stability — the Nets had their front nine (Kidd, Kittles, Keith, Kenyon, MacCulloch, RJ, Lucious, Aaron, and Jason Collins), and all else was gravy. I’d been a Nets fan, but that was the team I fell in love with.
- Dennis Velasco: Despite the sweep in the NBA Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers, I’ll go with the 2001-02 team for a couple of strong reasons. First, they doubled their number of wins during the regular season from the previous season, going 52-30, which stands as the best record for a single season in New Jersey Nets history (ABA not included). And, second and most importantly, it was the year that Jason Kidd arrived, almost single-handedly turning around a franchise steeped in misery and lost potential (Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, anyone?).
- Justin DeFeo: The 02-03 version of the Nets were the best. This was a team that one year of playoff and NBA Finals experience under their belts. They had a 10-game winning streak in the playoffs and were a few Tim Duncan all-time performances away from being NBA champions.
- Sebastian Pruiti: That back to back Finals team. I know they didn’t have the flashiest names but it was the best example of a team that we’ve seen in the Finals for a long time and only the Pistons were probably a better example of that. Everyone at that team had their role, knew their role, and executed what they had to do to perfect. Combine that with Jason Kidd’s ability to make everyone better and you have a hell of a team.
- Mark Ginocchio: It’s a toss-up but forced to make a decision, I’ll take the 2002-03 Nets. Kidd was that much better, RJ was coming into his own, K-Mart was a defensive beast, and guys like Aaron Williams, Kerry Kittles and Lucious Harris were fantastic role players. And despite his off-season, I always believed Mutombo’s presence gave the Nets a puncher’s chance in the Finals that year agains the Spurs.
2. Best NJ Nets player of all-time?
- DK: Easy choice: Jason Kidd, for every reason I listed above. But I’ll take this space to also shout out Drazen Petrovic, who could’ve made a case if not for his tragic death.
- DV: As iconic as Kidd was, this has to go to Buck Williams, the personification of a B-side to a hit record. Williams was as hard-working as they came in the NBA, but because he played on the Nets in the shadow of the New York Knicks, Buck never really received the accolades and respect from the general NBA fan that he should have gotten. However, it would be a travesty if Nets fans of all ages didn’t know just how great Williams was in producing for the franchise. Feel free to check this write-up I did of him previously on NAS and you’ll see the man did some good things.
- JD: Jason Kidd, for everything he meant for us on the court and off it.
- SP: I’m going to pick Jason Kidd. Talked about it in the previous answer, but he took a lot of role players (and very good role players) to back to back finals and made just about everyone who played with him better. Have you seen Richard Jefferson’s numbers since he stopped playing with Kidd?
- MG: Jason Kidd by a country mile.
3. Moment that altered franchise history the most?
- DK: I’m going to split this between the two players I named for the previous question: the trade that brought Jason Kidd to the Nets, and the car accident that ended Drazen Petrovic’s life. Without Kidd, the Nets don’t make those Finals runs, don’t become relevant for a brief period, don’t give Nets fans something to hold over Knicks fans’ heads (playoff victories in the past decade), and continue the same narrative of same old Nets. Without Drazen’s accident, who knows if Kidd doesn’t just continue a winning culture, rather than begin it?
- DV: It might be the Jason Kidd acquisition and probably should be, but I’d like to bring some hope, however minuscule, to a fanbase that needs it. Let’s all imagine five years from now, we look back and answer the above question this way – “When the Nets were bought by Mikhail Prokhorov.” Obviously, his ownership has meant nothing at the heart of it thus far as the Nets don’t have the superstars Prokhorov and we want. However, let’s imagine that the Dwightmare (yes, it’s starting back up again) ends dreamily for the Nets, Deron Williams re-signs, and the Nets keep either MarShon Brooks or the first overall pick (one of which will be traded to the Orlando Magic along with Brook Lopez and whatever else it takes) of the 2012 NBA Draft. And, in five years, we can all say in public with boisterous voices that we’re fans of the two-time NBA champions!.(For the record that would be the Nets in this scenario… just wanted to make sure)…. Okay, let’s go with the Jason Kidd acquisition on this one.
- JD: John Calipari not taking the chance of drafting Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft, instead selecting Kerry Kittles. Kittle is a nice player, Bryant is one of the best guards of all-time. Who knows what the Nets brand would mean today had we drafted Bryant back in ’96.
- SP: Not getting John Wall. The Nets just went through a 12 win season. They were historically bad, and the only saving grace was the fact that the Nets had the most ping-pong balls in an attempt to change the franchise. If the Nets get the number one pick, they get John Wall. I’m still convinced LeBron James comes over and if that happens, you have a John Wall/LeBron James/Brook Lopez core. Not half bad. Instead, the Nets draft Derrick Favors and tried to trade him the entire time he was in New Jersey.
- MG: Game 5, Nets/Pacers in 2002. The fact that the Nets fought off the very best shot of a known clutch-time assassin in Reggie Miller put them on the trajectory to get to back-to-back Finals. I always thought it was very fitting that the Nets – a team very few took seriously to that point – got their biggest challenge in the very first round that season. It was a real character-building experience. If they had lost in the first round to the Pacers, I doubt they do much the following season and then Jason Kidd is surely on his way to Texas as a free agent.
4. Favorite memory of the NJ Nets?
- DK: I have just so many, but one that always stood out in my mind was Kenyon Martin’s two-handed block-rebound on David Wesley in the 2002 playoffs. As a young fan, I’d never seen anything quite like it, especially considering the circumstances (Wesley collided with Kidd earlier in the game, requiring Kidd to get 15 stitches). There are bigger, better, flashier moments, but that block defined Kenyon Martin’s impact on those Nets: a player who’d barrel through time and space to prevent a basket, then add his own physical flair.
- DV: Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I have to say with a bit of sarcasm, when Yinka Dare notched his first career assist after 78 games in the NBA (during his third NBA season). However, my “for real” answer is that first run to the 2002 NBA Finals. It was such a great story, especially to me since I’ve been following Jason Kidd’s career since he was in prep school. Thank you, Street & Smith magazine.
- JD: Nets-Pacers, 2002, Game 5 first round series. Being in the building for that game was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget. The energy and emotion of that game has been unmatched. It also was Jason Kidd, my favorite all-time player, at the height of his powers in so many ways.
- SP: Those playoff years engineered by Kidd. Every time the Nets were the postseason, I’d be able to go to a playoff game or two. While the crowd was never really in it and even though the stadium wasn’t really full, it was still amazing to see the Nets competing and beating the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
- MG: I remember being at my parent’s house on a Friday night in college when the Nets were finishing off the Celtics in Game 6 in Boston in 2002. That was such a tense series, especially after the Nets choked away a 20+ point advantage in game 3. But after the Pacers series, the Nets seemed so much more battle-tested at that point. I just remember that game ending so non-chalantly with the Nets celebrating on Boston’s court when it suddenly struck me that this team I had rooted for for more than a decade that was a perpetual loser finally had a shot at the promised land. Obviously, as a fan, I wouldn’t get much higher than that because of the 4-game sweep by the Lakers in the Finals, but I’ll always remember Game 6 in Boston.
5. Going to Brooklyn, good move or bad move?
- DK: Good move. The Nets never quite seemed to click in New Jersey. Brooklyn provides an entirely new element for fan connectivity, for branding, for luring potential free agents, and for re-imagining franchise history.
- DV: There are definite pros and cons here. It’s something great and new, but in the backyard of the New York Knicks. It’s a huge borough that is known for “representin'” itself through its citizens, however, some of those citizens are hipsters. It’s a billion-dollar arena in an area with a perceived bad reputation that could stop people from outside the area to come check out Barclays Center. However, all things considered, I do think it’s a good move that has been several years in the making and, really, how much worse can it get?
- JD: It pains me to say it, but it seems like it will be a good move. The Nets were dying in New Jersey and worse yet, no one seemed to really care about the death. In Brooklyn, we’ll have a brand new building to call our own and a possible identity to build on.
- SP: It’s a good thing. The Medowlands was an awful stadium that nobody wants to go to. The Prudential Center is a nice stadium that is easy to get to, but it’s not a NBA stadium. Free agency is now basically a recruiting process and having a nice facility in a big market is how you lure players to your team. New Jersey doesn’t have that. Brooklyn does.
- MG: It’s a great move. I’m a lifelong New Yorker so I’m sure this will rub some fans of the team the wrong way, but Jersey has never seemed to embraced the Nets, and if they have, then they are just some of the worst fans in sports given how they never show up to games (even when the team was good). It’ll take time to build up a die-hard fan base in Brooklyn, but provided the Nets put an acceptable product on the floor that can at least compete with the Knicks, I think they will absolutely develop an electric atmosphere in one of the most unique cities (Brooklyn, not NYC) on the planet.