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
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 Kittles 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."
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN A KIDD SHALL LEAD THEM In each of the last five years, Kidd has made the playoffs; the Nets haven't been there since 1998.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Nets
"I can see why they traded Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd.
Marbury's an unbelievable player, but he's only 24, and right now
he's not as tuned in to involving his teammates and winning games
as Kidd is.... Kidd is going to help Kenyon Martin, Keith Van
Horn and Kerry Kittles be more creative, but I don't buy into
this idea that he's going to turn Martin into the second coming
of Shawn Marion. Kidd's success with Marion had a lot to do with
Marion's explosiveness; I don't think Martin is as good an
athlete. The jury is still out on his jump shot, and he seems in
between positions--not quick enough to guard small forwards, too
small to handle bigger forwards.... Van Horn isn't a true power
forward either, so maybe between them they can make a decent
frontcourt--if they can stay healthy.... Like a lot of people I
questioned the contract the Nets gave Todd MacCulloch. He was
able to score with his back to the basket last year, but that was
because Philly had other guys you had to worry about. I don't
know if he can succeed as your starting center. He's not a big
rebounder and neither is Van Horn, which means other
guys--especially Martin--will have to help on the boards....
Kittles looks like he's recovered from his knee problems. When
he's healthy, he stretches the defense. If he could give them 10
to 15 points a game, that would be huge.... Richard Jefferson is
going to be good. He's definitely an NBA athlete.... As bad as
they were with all their injuries, I never saw them quit, so at
least Byron Scott has got them playing hard."
2000-01 record: 26-56 (sixth in Atlantic)
Coach: Byron Scott (second season with Nets)
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
SF Kenyon Martin 12.0 ppg 7.4 rpg 1.66 bpg 1.15 spg 44.5 FG%
PF Keith Van Horn 17.0 ppg 7.1 rpg 1.7 apg 0.82 spg 43.5 FG%
C Todd MacCulloch 4.1 ppg 2.7 rpg 0.30 bpg 58.9 FG% 63.6 FT%
SG Kerry Kittles 13.0 ppg 3.6 rpg 1.27 spg 43.7 FG% 40.0 3FG%
PG Jason Kidd 16.9 ppg 9.8 apg 6.4 rpg 2.16 spg 41.1 FG%
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
F-C Aaron Williams 10.2 ppg 7.2 rpg 1.38 bpg 0.72 spg 45.7 FG%
G Brandon Armstrong (R)
205 22.1 ppg 1.5 apg 3.3 rpg 1.48 spg 44.7 FG%
G Lucious Harris 9.4 ppg 3.9 rpg 1.8 apg 1.01 spg 42.5 FG%
F Richard Jefferson (R)
237 11.3 ppg 5.4 rpg 2.7 apg 0.80 bpg 47.9 FG%
C Jason Collins(R)14.5 ppg 7.8 rpg 1.5 apg 1.26 bpg 61.3 FG%
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
statistics for 1999-2000 season
"The jury is out on Martin's jump shot, and he seems in between