From the disappointed look on Kenyon Martin's face following Game 4, clearly it would be of no use to remind him of the Nets' 26-56 record last season. Or about how his team had overcome the history of a franchise that saw the Nets making the postseason only four times in the previous 15 years and not having won a playoff series since 1984. Or about the enthusiastic Nets fans that were packed to the rafters at Continental Airlines Arena on Wednesday night.
"How do I feel right now? How do you think I feel right now?" Martin growled in the post-game press conference.
Martin says he lives and dies for the game, which is evident in the way he plays.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
He didn't hear the 19,000-plus fans packed into the arena screaming their appreciation of his career playoff-high 35-point, 11-rebound effort when coach Byron Scott took Martin out of the game with 44 seconds left. He only heard the word "sweep," saw the Lakers closing their grip on a third straight championship and felt a disappointment unlike any before in his basketball career.
So it would be up to the Nets' lone captain, the man who had carried the team on his back so many times this year, to put the situation in perspective.
"The big thing is we had a great season, you know," Jason Kidd said. "Nobody had picked us to be in this position. So for us to get this far with the talent that we had and the group of guys, that just shows the character in the group of guys that we had.
"We're not going to be satisfied -- we've got to use this as our first step of becoming one of those elite teams. Sometimes it's gonna hurt, but success has never come easy. So we just have to understand that."
The Nets' success story is one that will echo through the halls of NBA organizations for quite some time, especially as a model for teams that have perpetually struggled. From the foundation of Kidd's leadership and Scott's coaching, other players were able to blossom. Thanks to the emergence of Martin, the return of Kerry Kittles, the arrival of Todd MacCulloch, the development of rookies Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins, and the contributions of Keith Van Horn, Aaron Williams and Lucious Harris, the Nets went from lottery rags to Finals riches overnight.
Which counted for everything until they ran headlong into the latest three-time NBA champion. The play of the wunderkid, the big brick wall in the middle and the role players raining threes made all the Nets' achievements suddenly feel like nothing.
"They are a great team with great players, but they are complete," Jefferson said of the Lakers. "There is not necessarily an area in which they are lacking, in which you can really attack them. You just have to go at them with a whole package, and sometimes that is very tough."
Upgrading that package is the food for thought on which Nets GM Rod Thorn will spend all summer chewing. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year won't be going after a big man on another team who can compete with Shaquille O'Neal -- one doesn't exist. So it becomes a matter of tweaking what the Nets already have.
And finding what they lacked in the Finals, something Martin believes went beyond a matchup for O'Neal.
"Some guys don't have it in them. Guys come to play every day and some guys, you don't know when they're gonna show up," Martin said. "That's the hardest thing to deal with. I can deal with losing. But guys who don't bring it every day, that's something I can't deal with."
Martin averaged 22.0 points per game in the Finals, with Kidd contributing 20.8 ppg and 9.8 assists per game. From there the support got pretty sparse, especially from Van Horn, who put up just 10.5 ppg on 38.6 percent field-goal shooting.
But while the Nets right now can only see their 0-4 record against the Lakers, there's another record worth noting -- New Jersey went 11-9 in the 2002 playoffs. Previously, the franchise had only won nine TOTAL postseason games.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't take it further," Scott said. "But I'm also very, very proud of my guys. I think our guys have been fantastic throughout this whole season. I told them that we're not going to hold our heads down. We should be holding our heads up high because we got to a point where nobody in this room thought that we would get to.
"So, this is very gratifying for us to be able to compete in the NBA Finals and hopefully, you know, this is going to hurt -- hopefully it lasts us for a little while because I think it's going to make us a better team for next year."