Catching Up: A Q&A With Kerry Kittles (Part 2)
Kittles returned from a knee injury to start for two NBA Finals teams
Over seven seasons with the Nets, Kerry Kittles averaged 14.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 1996-97 and averaged a career-high 17.2 points the following season. Kittles is second in franchise history with 687 3-pointers made.
Part 1 coverered Kittles' first four Nets seasons, and Part 2 picks up with the 2001-02 NBA Finals team.
BROOKLYNNETS.COM: After the Nets won 26 games while you were sidelined, your return coincided with the arrival of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and several other players, plus a new coach in Byron Scott. Was it almost like joining a new team?
KERRY KITTLES: Everybody was new from the last time I played with the Nets. Besides Keith Van Horn, maybe Lucious was there. He came over we got him with Keith Van Horn from Philly. All new faces. New coach. I had never played for Byron Scott. Eddie Jordan came in and put in the Princeton offense and Lawrence Frank was covering defense. We got an interesting group of guys and Jason Kidd was facilitating, running the show. It was fun. There was a lot of excitement around the team. It was really Rod Thorn’s message and leadership that propelled that group to buying in and playing as a group and playing together. Leadership is huge in sports and I recognized that from my first moments with Rod Thorn and seeing his influence and his strong leadership skills.
NETS.COM: How important was the fast start to the 2001-02 season, winning seven of your first eight games, to letting everybody know that things would be different?
KK: For us coming together, we were all new. Keith Van Horn played with Kenyon the year before, but Byron Scott and all those guys, everybody was new. New point guard, new coach, for me it could have gone a lot of different ways. Everybody in pro sports wants to get paid and maximize their value in the market. That’s an element of team chemistry. Is this guy going to go off and do his own thing? From day one, we were going to do it together. I think the offense always emphasized team chemistry and ball movement and playing off each other. We didn’t score off one-on-one. It was not iso basketball. We were having so much fun with the transition baskets and the open court. It was a fun time to play for the New Jersey Nets.
NETS.COM: You started alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt and averaged 13.4 points while shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range in 2001-02. How was it playing with Jason?
KK: We really complemented each other well. And on both sides of the ball. Back then there was a lot of defense and we really turned defense into offense. The minute the possession changed over, he and I were in sync and we were gone. He knew when I was spotting up and he knew when I was filling the lanes. I didn't have to put my hand up or call for the ball. He said, 'I know where you'll be and I'll find you.' He had this really uncanny ability of taking a quick snapshot of the possession as soon as it started. He knew where his guys were and he knew where the defense was going to go. From that point on, it was like he won the possession mentally.
NETS.COM: The Nets won a dramatic first-round series against Indiana and went on to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. How do you recall that playoff experience?
KK: It was happening so fast. We beat some pretty good teams during the season. We had some really competitive games. There was no doubt once the playoffs started that we were going to be a tough team to beat. We knew we could hang with those better teams in the Eastern Conference. We were very well prepared. We were confident in our bench play and the offense and learning all of it.
NETS.COM: What was the personality of that 2001-02 team?
KK: We had a good group. Jason was quiet, Van Horn was quiet, I was quiet. But everybody else was fun to be around. They entertained us. Kenyon, you had Donny Marshall, Anthony Johnson, Lucious was funny. We were always cracking on Richard. He was always the guy we were making fun of and laughing at. Jason Collins was funny. We had a good group of guys. There was a light locker room. Everyone knew their job and their roles. Everyone enjoyed being around each other:
NETS.COM: How different was the 2002-03 season, when you were coming off an NBA Finals appearance and then got back to the Finals?
KK: We knew we were good. We had mostly the same core. We didn’t really feel any pressure.
NETS.COM: The next season, 2003-04, was your last with the Nets, and the team fell short of an NBA Finals return, losing in the second round to Detroit after Lawrence Frank replaced Byron Scott during the season. What was missing that year?
KK: It was difficult the last year in some ways. That third year going through the same stuff again. As a group, things were kind of slipping away from us. There’s no question that doubt creeps into everyone’s mind. You start to doubt things in some ways. You face some adversity and it challenges a group in a lot of ways and you see it in team sports a lot and it felt like we weren’t quite confident in ourselves. Sometimes the message isn’t always clear or isn’t received the way it’s intended to be received. There was some doubt among the group. We made a coaching change, we had a little bit of a new message with Lawrence. We gave it another go and played a really good Pistons team.
NETS.COM: You set an NBA rookie record with 158 3-pointers in 1996-97, which also stood as a Nets franchise record for 16 years, and shot over 40 percent in a season three times while averaging 3.6 attempts per game for your career. What do you think about the way the 3-pointer has grown in usage over the last few years?
KK: Today’s game, in its efforts to increase scoring, the analytics now influencing scoring in so many ways. You hear less and less about defense. It’s important and people are talking about it but mostly they’re talking about scoring and scoring. It definitely suits the way I used to play. I played with pace. I played in the open court. I definitely shot a lot of threes. I definitely would have done well in today’s game. When your coaches are always telling you and your teammates are always telling you to shoot and don’t pass up an open shot, that’s one thing, and it’s another to look for a better shot. In today’s game, you have to take the three. You can’t even think about passing it up. You see it with the younger players in today’s game. You see them launching threes. I like to think I would do it well.
NETS.COM: Your post-career experience has included a stint as an assistant coach at Princeton. How was it approaching the game from that angle?
KK: I always wanted to stay involved in the game. I always wanted to be a student of the game. When you’re a player and you get into coaching, you see the game in a different way. I thought coaching in college would be a good learning experience. Mentoring is also always included in coaching any level, teaching young people to feel more confident in themselves, believing in themselves, that’s what mentoring is always about. It was good. I enjoyed most of my experience coaching. It was fun for me to see today’s game and where it’s trending. That level of basketball I’d never experienced, mid-major basketball, learning about the recruiting process and their level of talent. It was good for me at that moment in my life and I’m looking forward to the next adventure and whatever that entails.
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