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Together, Jason Kidd and the Nets soared to new heights

In NBA history, few trades have transformed a franchise the way Rod Thorn’s deal of July 18, 2001 did, the day that Jason Kidd became a Net.

The Kidd era’s six-plus seasons would be the most successful stretch in the franchise’s history, with four Atlantic Division titles and two Eastern Conference championships and NBA Finals appearances.

It wasn’t something that anybody saw coming. The Nets had won 26 games the year before, and the question hung out there: how much of a difference could one player make? And after years of false starts and promising teams that had fizzled out, the fans weren’t ready to jump on the bandwagon while it was still in the station. In Kidd’s first game as a Net, the season and home opener, just over 8,000 fans showed up at the Meadowlands.

The Nets won, beating the Pacers, 103-97. Then they won six of their next seven. And it was apparent that things had changed, more than anybody realized.

They ended up doubling their win total, with a franchise NBA-record 52 wins. They survived a first-round crucible against Reggie Miller and the Pacers, the decisive fifth game decided in double overtime. Defeating the Boston Celtics in six games, the Nets moved on to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history before falling to the threepeating Los Angeles Lakers of Shaq and Kobe.

Led by Kidd’s unique greatness, the Nets succeeded not just in winning, but the way they played. In a time where isolation plays and star-power hierarchies defined teams, Kidd’s Nets unleashed a free-flowing, equal-opportunity offense. Kenyon Martin led the team with just 14.9 points per game. Keith Van Horn was next with 14.8. Kidd averaged 14.7.

“I loved those Nets teams,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “I loved how they ran. I loved how (Kerry) Kittles and RJ (Richard Jefferson), how they ran the court, how fun they were to watch. His rebounds and kick aheads, those guys flying down the wings. How they moved the ball. It was exciting. There’s some teams that are good, aesthetically or not. They were a really good team, and they were exciting to watch.”

The following season, the Nets peaked in the playoffs, with consecutive series sweeps and 10 straight wins going into their return to the NBA Finals. This time, they were denied by the San Antonio Spurs in six games.

The Nets won their division in four of Kidd’s first five seasons with the team before he was traded to Dallas midway through his seventh season. He went on to win an NBA title with the Mavs in 2011 and retired after the 2012-13 season. Kidd is second in NBA history with 12,091 assists, more than 1,700 ahead of No. 3 Steve Nash.

With the Nets, Kidd was named to the All-NBA First Team in 2002 and 2004 and the Second Team in 2003. He was named to the All-Defensive First or Second Team in all six full seasons he played for the Nets. And he played in five All-Star Games. He remains the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, steals and 3-pointers.

Immediately before coming to the Nets, Kidd had led the NBA in assists for three straight years and been named to three consecutive All-NBA First Teams. But in leading a team to back-to-back NBA Finals, he was able to elevate his own stature. His second-place finish in the 2001-02 NBA MVP voting was the highest of his career.

“That’s the biggest compliment, right? When you say that he makes other players better,” said Atkinson. “With him, you could say he makes other players, but he makes his team better, just his presence. There’s a handful of guys that can do that, that can lift.”