Nets City Edition Seasons: 1990-91
The Nets launched a new decade with the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft and broke out an attention-grabbing new look as well
It was a season for starting over.
After five straight playoff appearances in the 1980s, the Nets had crashed, closing the decade with the league’s worst record. So as a new decade of NBA basketball dawned with the 1990-91 season, the Nets had the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and one more element that let everybody know a new era was beginning … those uniforms.
After sporting the iconic Stars & Stripes that dated back to the ABA days for 17 of the previous 19 seasons, the Nets came out with a whole new look, from a redesigned logo to bold threads. And while the tie-dye road set that shook up the NBA lasted just a single season, the new Nets wordmark across the chest and the updated logo would carry through a distinctive era for the franchise.
Two Hall of Fame coaches — Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly — led the Nets to three straight playoff appearances. The Nets used that 1990 No. 1 pick on Derrick Coleman and then the 1991 No. 2 pick on Kenny Anderson, with the duo becoming the first Nets to start an NBA All-Star Game in 1994. After the 1992-93 season, Coleman and Drazen Petrovic became the first Nets to earn All-NBA honors since Buck Williams a decade earlier. Coleman repeated the honor in 1993-94.
It was a quick turnaround that eventually faded before it ever really got going. But the Nets put the first pieces together while taking the court in a new look.
Start with Coleman, the rangy 6-foot-10 forward who had been a rebounding monster over four years at Syracuse.
“I didn’t know I was going to be the No. 1 pick until they called my name,” said Coleman on the night of the draft. “Playing in the New York area will make me a more motivated player. It’s kind of like being in a fishbowl, like I was at Syracuse.”
Coleman made his NBA debut with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a 100-81 loss on the road in the Indiana as the Nets opened the season wearing their new tie-dye look. They dropped their first three on the road before winning their home opener against Miami on Nov. 8, 114-103, as Coleman had another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds against his old Syracuse teammates Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas.
The Nets dropped nine of their first 11 games before rebounding and winning six of eight, beginning with a 116-114 win in Phoenix on Nov. 23 as Mookie Blaylock scored 26 points, Reggie Theus had 24 and Coleman, now in the starting lineup, scored 17 on 8-of-12 shooting. But hard times were coming. The Nets lost 11 straight in a streak that started just before Christmas and carried into the middle of January.
A week later, the Nets swung a three-team trade with Portland and Denver that included four players and three future draft picks. Out went Greg Anderson and the 1992 first-round pick and in came a future second-rounder, forward Terry Mills, and Petrovic.
“When he came to Jersey, it was an opportunity for him to step in and play,” said Coleman. “First upon meeting Drazen, it’s always the language barrier. But I saw him with his work ethic and wanted to prove himself in the game of basketball. He felt that being in Portland he didn’t get a chance to showcase his talents and what he was capable of doing. With us making that trade for him, and you know with me, sports, it’s always just a rhythm and getting familiar with your teammates, and as that season started to really, I would say at the All-Star break we had a little chemistry. It wasn’t quite there yet. But you could see Drazen’s potential and his talent, just his will on the basketball court to really show everybody that he belongs in the game.”
In his Nets debut on Jan. 25, Petrovic scored 14 points on 50.0 percent shooting in an overtime loss to the Lakers. The second-year NBA guard from Croatia was 26 years old at the time after launching his pro career in Europe. After averaging 12.6 points through 43 games with the Nets the rest of the season, Petrovic had his breakout the following year. He averaged 20.6 points in 1991-92 and 22.3 points in 1992-93, shooting better than 50 percent from the field both seasons. The 2002 Hall of Fame inductee, who was killed in a car accident following the 1992-93 season, has the fifth-best 3-point shooting percentage in NBA history — 43.7 percent.
“He was just terrific,” said Anderson. “He could shoot off the screen, he could shoot off the bounce, he was a legit 2. But he was a great two-guard, off the dribble he could beat you, come off screens, he could flat-out shoot the rock.”
The Nets were 13-26 when they made the trade for Petrovic and went on to finish the season with a 26-56 record. Theus led the team with 18.6 points per game in his final NBA season and Coleman averaged 18.4 points and 10.3 rebounds to win the Rookie of the Year award. A few months after the end of the season, they added Anderson in the draft, a local high school legend out of Archbishop Molloy in Queens. The following year they made a 14-win jump and the first of three straight playoff appearances.
“Chemistry and understanding that the chemistry on the team, but understanding that it takes all of us,” said Coleman of the leap the team took. “All 12 guys and what we’re doing, and Chuck always gave praise to everybody for that. Like I said, Kenny was just destined for that opportunity. He was just sitting there in the wings waiting for that. I’ve got two guys on the floor with me who actually really needed to prove themselves. You’ve got Draz who we got in a trade, played half a year, and I’ve got Kenny, our No. 1 pick the next year and didn’t really get an opportunity to play his rookie season. We come back that following year, they’re destined to really prove themselves: ‘Hey man, we belong and we’re really going to be something in this league.’ That jump, the 14 games and seeing whether we’re going to make it to the playoffs or not, that was the most exciting part about us in Jersey.”
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