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Original Issue

10 New Jersey Nets After last season's debacle, things can't possibly get worse. Can they?

The Nets had a surprise waiting for them when they opened
training camp last month at the Atlantic City Convention Center:
The East Coast Video Show, attended by such companies as Playboy
Entertainment Group, Pornication and Video Amor, was also
headquartered at the complex for its annual conference. To the
Nets' distraction the show's attendees, including some buxom
porn stars, were often seen prancing around the building, which
obviously attracted some attention. "I had to struggle to get
through the lobby at times," coach Don Casey says. "I'm sure
some of my players did, too."

Casey can only hope those are the worst struggles his team faces
this season. The Nets, who two years ago were an upstart club
that gave Michael Jordan's Bulls three hard-fought games in the
first round of the playoffs, produced a season last year that
warranted its own X rating. The obscene display was the result
of two factors: an overbearing coach, John Calipari, who
screamed too much while holding the reins too tight and lost the
respect of some players; and the team's dire need for a healthy
and productive point guard after Sam Cassell went down with a
sprained right ankle in the season's first game. The front
office tried to remedy those problems by firing Calipari after a
3-17 start and replacing him with his player-friendly assistant,
Casey, and later by acquiring star point guard Stephon Marbury
from the Timberwolves. By that time, though, the season was
essentially over; there was no way of telling if the changes
were sufficient, because injuries to several key players
eliminated any chance for the Casey-and-Marbury Nets to prove
themselves. "Given the circumstances, what could anyone do?"
asks Casey. "As hard as the guys played last year, there's
nothing anybody could do when your star players get hurt. So we
just took it on the chin and played on."

New Jersey's woes stretched from the beginning of the season,
when Cassell crashed, to the final game. On that May 5th night
seven Nets were not in uniform because of injuries, including
All-Star center Jayson Williams (broken right leg), leading
scorer Keith Van Horn (broken left thumb), starting shooting
guard Kerry Kittles (right knee injury) and reserve forward
Scott Burrell (right knee injury). In the lockout-shortened,
50-game schedule, New Jersey players missed a combined total of
182 games due to injuries, by far the most in the league. Still,
there was a silver lining: The Nets, ravaged as they were,
played respectably down the stretch, winning 11 of their last 21

"Our fortunes are bound to turn around," says Van Horn, who
missed eight games and was the league's fifth-leading scorer last
season. "You can't have injury after injury, year after year.
Some years are worse than others, and I hope last year was the
worst of it for us."

Keep hoping. The injury bug continued to plague New Jersey this
fall. Despite spending the summer in the weight room and adding
10 pounds of muscle to his 6'10", 245-pound frame, Van Horn was
sidelined for part of camp with a pulled left hamstring and a
strained neck. The Nets will also be without Williams, their
rebounding specialist, who's recovering from that broken leg and
from knee surgeries to fix a torn meniscus and remove a bone
particle; he's expected to be sidelined until at least January.
Rookie Evan Eschmeyer, expected to help fill in for Williams, had
surgery in September to repair a torn muscle in his right
shoulder. He, too, won't be back until after the New Year. Center
Jim McIlvaine is coming back from left shoulder surgery and had
to sit out a portion of camp because of an irregular heartbeat, a
condition that has sidelined him in the past.

To fill in at center Casey will use 6'8" Jamie Feick, who
averaged 10.3 rebounds in 28 games last season after moving from
forward. The Nets also re-signed 7'7" ex-Wizard Gheorghe Muresan
in the off-season. Although he hasn't played regularly since the
1996-97 season and suffers from chronic back and ankle pain
because of previous injuries, the 28-year-old Muresan gives the
Nets an intimidator, and he has been impressive in preseason
games. "I think his presence and size just baffle people," Van
Horn says of Muresan. "He's an unusual guy, and he's going to
make unusual plays, but they're effective. Most guys want to just
look at how big he is. That's when he surprises you."

The ongoing ailments in the frontcourt make it crucial that the
backcourt has a robust season. Sherman Douglas, a 12-year veteran
who averaged 8.0 points and 4.0 assists a game for the Nets in
1997-98 (and 18.3 points and 8.3 assists in those three playoff
games against the Bulls), was re-signed to back up Marbury after
spending last season with the Clippers. Shooting guard Kendall
Gill, who led the league in steals last year (2.68 per game), is
happy about moving back to the starting two spot, supplanting
Kittles. There will thus be less pressure on Kittles, recovering
from off-season knee surgery, to produce immediately; he can
round into form by coming off the bench. But he'd best not be too
leisurely in doing so: In the past Kittles, a valuable asset as a
sixth man, has been criticized privately by teammates for his
slow return from injuries.

MR. MARBURY, as the tattoo on his arm reads, is only 22, but he's
expected to be this team's leader. Although he won't shout it to
the world, Marbury has always wanted a club he could call his
own. Despite averaging 21.3 points and ranking third in the
league in assists last season, he's out to prove that he made the
right decision by forcing a midseason trade from Minnesota, where
he shared top billing with Kevin Garnett. Don't be surprised if
he carries his hometown team (well, sort of: He grew up in
Brooklyn) on his back just to make that point.

Although the injury problems are not yet behind them, the Nets
believe the worst is over. "Everything looks good on paper so
far, and that's a plus," says Casey, who was 13-17 after taking
over from Calipari. "Now they have to get it done on the court."

--Elizabeth Newman

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN BODILY HARM Van Horn bulked up to help ward off injury--then he got hurt again.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO A POINT TO PROVE Marbury wants everyone (hey, T-wolves) to see he's a main man.


BENCH [2 1/2 star]
COACH [2 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [3 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 16-34 (14th in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Don Casey (second season with Nets)

AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

NETS 91.4 (16) 40.6 (28) 43.0 (8) 15.0 (10)
OPPONENTS 95.2 (23) 45.3 (24) 44.1 (28) 16.3 (7)

In Fact

Keith Van Horn (fifth) and Stephon Marbury (eighth) were the only
pair of teammates to finish in the top 10 in scoring last season.
The last duo to do so was the Warriors' Chris Mullin and Tim
Hardaway in 1991-92.

Projected Lineup


SF Scott Burrell 148 6.6 ppg 3.7 rpg 1.4 apg 36.1 FG%
Only first-round draft pick ever in two major pro sports
(basketball, baseball)

PF Keith Van Horn 21 21.8 ppg 8.5 rpg 1.5 apg 42.8 FG%
First Net ever to finish higher than ninth in league in scoring

C Jamie Feick 116 6.3 ppg 10.3 rpg 0.9 apg 50.0 FG%
Averaged 12.6 rebounds as starter for Nets and Bucks last season

SG Kendall Gill 35 11.8 ppg 4.9 rpg 2.5 apg 39.8 FG%
Had only second points-rebounds-steals triple double in NBA

PG Stephon Marbury 9 21.3 ppg 2.9 rpg 8.9 apg 42.8 FG%
Gary Payton was only other player in top 10 in both scoring and


G Kerry Kittles 109 12.9 ppg 4.2 rpg 2.5 apg 37.0 FG%
Had second-worst FG% among players with 185 or more shots last

C Jayson Williams 117 8.1 ppg 12.0 rpg 1.1 apg 44.5 FG%
Second in league in rebounding at time of season-ending leg injury

F Johnny Newman[#] 218 6.1 ppg 1.5 rpg 0.8 apg 42.2 FG%
Last time he played in postseason was with New Jersey in 1993-94

G Sherman Douglas[#] 219 8.2 ppg 1.9 rpg 4.1 apg 43.8 FG%
Missed all 11 of his three-point attempts last season

C Gheorghe Muresan[##] 258 10.6 ppg 6.6 rpg 60.4 FG% 1.32 bpg
My Giant star has twice led NBA in field goal percentage
('95-96, '96-97)

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
[##]1996-97 statistics
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)