Part I: 2007-08 Recap
If Jason Kidd’s arrival in 2001 signified the New Jersey Nets’ jump to relevance in the NBA, then Kidd’s departure in February signaled the franchise’s return to the rebuilding stage.
The Nets, who won Kidd-led back-to-back conference championships in 2002 and 2003, failed to escape the second round of the playoffs in consecutive years heading into last season, and concern centered on the team’s aging core of Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson.
Despite that concern, the Nets remained competitive through the first three months of the season. However, things came unglued in January, when the Nets suffered a nine-game losing streak, punctuated by a winless six game west coast road trip.
Adding to the team’s misfortunes were rumors that Kidd wanted out of Jersey. Such rumors were not uncommon during Kidd’s tenure with the team, but when Kidd failed to show up for a December 5th game against the Knicks, several media outlets reported that Kidd had intentionally sat out to force a trade.
By the end of January, as the Nets slumped to a 19-26 record, it became clear that changes were needed. That change arrived on February 19, as Kidd, Malik Allen, and Antoine Wright were traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop, first-round picks in 2008 and 2010, and cash.
Harris, ten years younger than Kidd, is viewed as the team’s guard of the future. And Harris played admirably, averaging 15 points and 6 assists in 25 games with New Jersey. (Kidd went on to nearly average a double-double for Dallas, by the way, but struggled mightily in the playoffs.) But the present was not pretty in New Jersey, as the Nets limped through a 5-11 March en route to a 34-48 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Part of the reason for the Nets decline was their struggle on the defensive end of the floor. For all of the excitement generated by Jason Kidd’s passing (no gallows humor, please), during the Kidd years, it was the team’s defense that was the real backbone of the defense, fueling fast break after fast break. In fact, from 2002-06, the Nets allowed an average 90.7 points per game.
That number crept to 98.3 in 2007, and reached triple digits for the first time last season, at 100.9. (See chart on right)
Another cause of concern for New Jersey was the team’s lack of scoring options outside of Carter and Jefferson. The two players combined to average almost 44 of the team’s 95.8 points per game, and the Nets found it difficult to get contributions from elsewhere in the lineup.
Nenad Krstic, the team’s starting forward, had been viewed as one of the cornerstones of future success. But Krstic missed most of the 2007 season with an ACL injury and was not at all the same player when he returned in 2008. Krstic was limited to 45 games and was largely ineffective, seeing his scoring drop by ten points and his blocks, steals, and assists totals reduced by half.
If the 2008 season served to demonstrate anything, it was the year the Nets admitted to themselves they were no longer among the NBA’s elite.