During a morning practice at training camp, Richard Jefferson leaped for a rebound, fired a quick outlet pass, sprinted to the left wing, caught a bounce pass and went up for an easy bucket. Typical hustle for the fourth-year forward out of Arizona--and the kind of effort New Jersey will need from all its players, because knee surgery has sidelined franchise point guard Jason Kidd until at least December and cost-cutting by new owner Bruce Ratner led to the trades of All-Star power forward Kenyon Martin and shooting guard Kerry Kittles.
The Nets got three conditional first-round picks from the Nuggets in exchange for Martin, their leading rebounder and best defender; they got a 2005 second-round pick from the Clippers for Kittles, the franchise's second alltime leading scorer. And they got grief from Kidd, who has criticized the dismantling of a team that won conference titles in 2002 and '03.
Jefferson, on the other hand, has taken the high road; he even signed a six-year, $78 million extension over the summer. "[Team officials] told me that they weren't going to be able to sign [free agents]," says Jefferson. "But they also told me that next season, with the cap room we'll have, they would bring players in and get us headed back in the right direction."
In the meantime the Nets will go with such journeymen as Jacque Vaughn, Ron Mercer and Eric Williams. Until Kidd returns, Jefferson has to fill a leadership void in addition to carrying the scoring load, a responsibility he handled well last season. In nine games that Kidd and Martin both missed, Jefferson averaged 22.6 points--4.1 more than his season average.
"It's a different team," says Nets coach Lawrence Frank, "but change is a part of life and we're going to find a way to fight through it." --Chris Mannix
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Nets
This is a hard team to predict because everything revolves around Jason Kidd, who won't be back from knee surgery until at least December, and he's made it clear he's not happy that new owner Bruce Ratner unloaded Kenyon Martin to Denver for draft picks. If they keep Kidd and he plays at least half the season in good health, write them in for the playoffs.... It will be tough at first without Kidd, because new guys like Jacque Vaughn, Eric Williams and Ron Mercer will have to manage offensive sets they've never run before. At the same time the Nets can't abandon the Princeton offense--it's the best thing for a team with only one featured scorer, in this case Richard Jefferson.... Jefferson isn't a Jordanesque athlete who can create his own shot with one or two dribbles, and without Kidd he could be exposed as someone not worth the extension they gave him. I would have given that money to Martin, an inside player who brought defense and energy every night.... Eric Williams is not a long-term answer, but he should do a good job replacing Martin. He plays hard, never gives up an offensive board and is willing to guard all types of forwards, even though he constantly gets beat off the dribble. He thinks he's a better scorer than he is, so he always wants to post up.... They can also bring in Brian Scalabrine, a good support defender who will take a charge and is an excellent shooter.... When Jason Collins gets off to a decent start offensively, it's like he shuts himself down, as if he thinks he shouldn't go beyond a limited role.... Nenad Krstic has a chance to become a player because he has a decent body and skills, but right now the NBA game looks too fast for him.
With a league-high nine triple doubles last year--no other player had more than three--Jason Kidd tied Larry Bird for fourth on the alltime list (59).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 47-35 (3rd in East)
Points scored: 90.3 (23rd in NBA)
Points allowed: 87.8 (4th)
Coach: Lawrence Frank
(second season with the Nets)
RON MERCER [NEW ACQUISITION]
G ZORAN PLANINIC
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)