Even the Nets move to New Jersey was predicated by a series of unlucky events. On top of the $3.2 million entry fee team owner Roy Boe had to post in order to join the league, the NBA forced the Nets to pay an additional $4.8 million to the New York Knicks for encroaching on their territory. Future Hall of Famer Julius Erving had been promised a pay raise which was rendered impossible after the NBA’s fee double whammy. As a result the Nets were forced to trade Erving to Philadelphia and move to New Jersey after a disastrous year in Long Island. The Nets had to pony up another $4 million to the Knicks upon making the move to New Jersey and thus a fresh new franchise began life in financial ruin.
Just as the Nets were on the upward swing of contention for an NBA title after consecutive winning seasons Larry Brown accepted the vacant head coaching position with the University of Kansas only a few weeks before the playoffs. Brown’s sudden departure left the Nets in disarray turning what was a promising season into a first round exit at the hands of, you guessed it, the New York Knicks.
During the 1982-83 season the Nets acquired rising star guard Micheal Ray Richardson in a trade with the Golden State Warriors. Richardson electrified fans in New Jersey earning an All Star selection and leading the Nets to a playoff upset of the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers. Sadly, Richardson’s off the court life and recurring drug violations led commissioner David Stern to impose a lifetime ban. In 1988 David Stern agreed to give Richardson another chance should he be able to pass a drug test. He could not and never played in the NBA again.
The stars seemingly aligned for the Nets in the early part of the century as the combination of an in his prime Jason Kidd, and the lack of any real competition in the Eastern Conference led them to back to back NBA Finals appearances. In those two series the Nets went a total of 2-8 losing to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs becoming a footnote in those franchise’s storied histories. The Nets would slowly start to unravel following the 2003 Finals as they fired head coach Byron Scott and lost to the eventual champion Detroit Pistons in the playoffs.
Granted, the science of selecting the right player in the NBA Draft is dependent upon a lot of things that are ultimately out of the team’s control. Conversely when you finish with as many losing seasons as the Nets did in their 35 years in New Jersey you’re going to get a lot of opportunities at “can’t miss” draft picks. Taking that into consideration here are some all stars and potential hall of famers the Nets brass completely whiffed on:
1987 – Drafted Dennis Hopson, Missed Scottie Pippen & Reggie Miller
1989 – Drafted Mookie Blaylock, Missed Tim Hardaway & Shawn Kemp
1991 – Drafted Kenny Anderson, Missed Dikembe Mutombo
1996 – Drafted Kerry Kittles , Missed Kobe Bryant
2005 – Drafted Antoine Wright, Missed Danny Granger
In the fall of 2009 Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov became the majority owner of the New Jersey Nets seemingly ushering in a new chapter for the franchise as a player in the acquisitions of superstar players. The team made it’s first pass at luring in some of the league’s top talent by throwing their hat into the LeBron James / Dwyane Wade / Chris Bosh sweepstakes in the summer of 2010; they ended up with Travis Outlaw. The subsequent regular season was beleaguered by ever present trade rumors involving Carmelo Anthony that ultimately ended with Melo in a Knicks uniform and the Nets pulling a surprise deadline deal for Deron Williams. Knowing that in order to keep Williams they would have to add another star player, The team made a strong push for Dwight Howard. Howard ended up picking up his option with Orlando forgoing free agency in the summer of 2012. This leaves the Nets unsure of their chances of re-signing Williams with the frightening possibility of the team opening up a new arena in a huge metro area without a “face of the franchise” type player. Shades of Dr. J.