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The 1990s: Fast Start Fades, but a Stage is Set

Teamed with Coleman and Anderson, Petrovic lights up NBA

The Nets closed the 1980s with the worst record of their first 14 NBA seasons, giving them a prize to get the 1990s started the right way: with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

With it, they grabbed Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman. With the franchise sporting a new logo and uniforms, Coleman led the team into a new era as he was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year after averaging 18.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

“He had more tools than anyone with that size; 6-10, ambidextrous,” said Herb Turetzky, the Nets’ official scorer since their inaugural season. “He’d throw full-court passes with either hand. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He’d shoot 15-foot jump shots with the right hand. Rebound, pass, dribble. There was nothing he couldn’t do when he wanted to do it.”

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In the first six months of 1991, the Nets added two more pieces that would fit with Coleman to fuel a quick turnaround. Croatian sharpshooter Drazen Petrovic came in a trade with Portland in January. In June, point guard Kenny Anderson, a New York high school legend at Archbishop Molloy, was selected with the second pick in the NBA Draft.

The Nets improved by 14 wins in 1991-92, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1986. The following summer saw the arrival of two-time NBA champion Chuck Daly as head coach, fresh off his gold-medal trip to the Barcelona Olympics with the Dream Team.

In 1992-93, Coleman averaged a career high 20.7 points with 11.2 rebounds per game. Anderson, in his first season as a full-time starter, averaged 16.9 points with 8.2 assists per game.

Petrovic, who had come into his own the year before, averaged 22.3 points per game, was third in the NBA shooting 45 percent from 3-point range and, along with Coleman, was named to the All-NBA third team, the franchise’s first All-NBA selections since Buck Williams 10 years earlier.

But in June 1993 Petrovic, a free agent, was tragically killed in a car accident in Germany. He was 28 years old.

“He was the future,” said Turetzky. “Even though there were a lot of thoughts he wasn’t coming back, he did indicate to us that he felt he was. And I hoped he was. We loved having him here and he loved being here.”

The Nets returned to the playoffs in 1994, finishing 45-37, their most wins in a decade and the second-best record in their NBA history to that point. Anderson notched career highs with 18.8 points and 9.6 assists per game. Both Anderson and Coleman were selected to start in the NBA All-Star Game, the first Nets to do so.

But Daly resigned after the season, the Nets missed the playoffs in 1995, and during the 1995-96 season both Coleman and Anderson were traded.

John Calipari arrived as head coach after the 1996 season, and in 1997-98 the Nets improved by 17 wins to finish 43-39 and return to the playoffs.

The Nets’ leading scorer in 1997-98 was rookie forward Keith Van Horn, acquired in an eight-player draft night trade after being selected second overall. Guard Kerry Kittles, the Nets’ first round pick a year earlier, was third in scoring with 17.2 points per game. Jayson Williams averaged 12.9 points and 13.6 rebounds, second in the NBA.

Calipari’s tenure ended after a dismal start to the 1998-99 season, but in Kittles and Van Horn the Nets had two of the pieces in place that would soon spark a revival.

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