The New Jersey Nets played their last-ever game in the Garden State on Monday night (well, unless they move back there for a third time) and have one game left to go with their present name. Though the Nets have never won an NBA Championship, they have had a few successful patches in their three-plus decades playing in New Jersey. Jason Kidd led them to a pair of NBA Finals, as well as four first-place finishes and six playoff appearances. They qualified for five consecutive postseasons in the '80s and went to the playoffs four times in the '90s. And along with Kidd, they've featured such greats as Buck Williams, Bernard King, Vince Carter, Michael Ray Richardson and Drazen Petrovic. Unfortunately, the franchise has had more downs than ups, with numerous negatives outweighing the positives. But with a bright future ahead of them and a clean slate coming up in Brooklyn, let's take a quick look backwards with a list of the worst things that have happened to the Nets. We could have just picked five bad players, five bad coaches/executives or five bad seasons, but we tried to mix things up. And Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown didn't make the cut, though both of those guys usually show up on every team's worst-things-to-happen-to-them list.
5. Joining the NBA: Technically this applies to the New York Nets but obviously affected their years in New Jersey. After claiming the last-ever ABA Championship in 1976 (and second in three seasons), the franchise could have gone out on a high note, like George Costanza once attempted to do, and let the Kentucky Colonels or another team join the NBA in their stead. They could have been frozen in time as champions, with their fans gazing back longingly with nostalgia with the chance of being the Brooklyn Dodgers of basketball, and a cottage industry that goes along with it. Sure, we would have missed out on all those decades of basketball, but the Nets would have gone out winners. Or perhaps if they stayed on Long Island, Mikhail Prokhorov could have been the hero to have gotten the Nets and New York Islanders a new arena and breathed life into the hockey team as he did with his basketball franchise.
4. The Butch Beard Era: There are a number of eras that could have been chosen, but we'll go with this one, as in the two years of Beard's reign (1994-'95, '95-'96) the Nets had a Worst Team Money Could Buy situation happening. After three straight playoff appearances (two with Chuck Daly at the helm), the Nets finished with back-to-back 30-52 seasons, with Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman (playing the roles of VInce Coleman and Bobby Bonilla, respectively) starring for the team (though Coleman was shipped to the 76ers in a multi-player trade bringing back Shawn Bradley after Beard's first season). This particular Net squad lacked everything: Leadership, chemistry, a work ethic, unselfishness, discipline, a team concept, you name it. They squabbled, they didn't listen to Beard and they were finally blown up with the John Calipari era soon following (and that one didn't end very well either).
3. Drafting Dennis Hopson: We don't want to blame it all on Hopson, but when the Nets had the third overall pick in the 1987 draft, they could have chosen Scottie Pippen or Reggie Miller or Kevin Johnson or Mark Jackson or . . . Hopson spent three seasons with the Nets, and he even averaged 15.8 points per game in 1989-'90, but he was no Scottie Pippen or Reggie Miller or Kevin Johnson or Mark Jackson or . . .
2. Selling Dr. J: This one also happened during the team's New York years but had a negative impact on the franchise for a full decade. When the Nets were set to join the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs in 1976 (but sadly not the Flint Tropics) they were primed for success, with the ABA's best player in Julius Erving and the just-traded-for star point guard Nate Archibald giving the team one of the best one-two punches in their new league. But when owner Roy Boe learned that he had to pay the New York Knicks $4.8 million for invading their territory on top of the $3.2 million that he had to pay to become part of the NBA, he was short on cash. Dr. J was promised a pay raise, and when Erving discovered that Boe couldn't hold up his end of the bargain, the star refused to play for the team. Boe's only means of survival was to get rid of Erving. He offered him to the Knicks in exchange for the $4.8 million but they turned him down (how in the world could the Knicks have done that?), and Boe eventually sold his best player to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million ($3 million? Prokhorov has $3 million falling out of his pockets when he gets his morning coffee at Starbucks). On top of all that, Archibald only managed to play 34 games for the Nets, as injuries hampered his career. Had their original plan worked out, New Jersey Nets' history would have been far different.
1. The Death of Drazen Petrovic: After becoming one of the top stars in Europe, the Yugoslavia (now Croatia) native signed with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989. Stuck on the bench behind Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, he was traded to the Nets on Jan. 23, 1991. And Petrovic soon proved to be one of the top shooting guards in the league. After averaging 12.6 points in half a season with the Nets, he flourished the next two seasons, averaging 20.6 points per game and 22.3 on 51% and 52% shooting, respectively. And his three-point shooting was just as deadly, hitting treys at a 45% rate both years. He helped the Nets qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1986 in his first season with the team, and they made the postseason the next year as well (and Petrovic was named to the All-NBA Third Team). And then tragedy struck. On June 7, 1993, he was killed in a car accident in Bavaria. Petrovic was only 28 years old. The Nets retired his No. 3, and the sharpshooter was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.