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The 2000s: Jason Kidd and the NBA Finals

Electrifying point guard transforms the franchise

For the second time in the team’s history, a single trade changed everything for the Nets.

On July 18, 2001, the Nets sent Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumaila Samake to the Phoenix Suns and received Jason Kidd in return.

Over his 6½ seasons with the Nets, Kidd would be named to two All-NBA First Teams and one Second Team, six NBA All-Defensive Teams and five NBA All-Star games. The Nets would reach their first NBA Finals and then return the following year, going on to six straight playoff appearances.

The turnaround was immediate. With Kidd at the controls, the Nets won seven of their first eight games to start the 2001-02 season. They doubled their win total in finishing 52-30 to win their first division title.

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Kidd was not the only addition to the lineup. Guard Kerry Kittles returned after missing the 2000-01 season with a knee injury to shoot 40 percent from 3-point range. Rookie Richard Jefferson was a first-round pick acquired in a draft-night trade who excelled in a sixth-man role. Starting center Todd MacCulloch was signed as a free agent and formed a solid pivot pair with Jason Collins, who also came over in the Jefferson trade.

The pieces fit perfectly, with Kidd directing a free-flowing balanced offense that had Kenyon Martin as the leading scorer with just 14.9 points per game, with Van Horn right behind at 14.8 and Kidd averaging 14.7.

“He had an uncanny knack for what had to be done to get the ball in the basket,” said Nets official scorer Herb Turetzky. “Not by his hand, by somebody else’s. And he was with a group of guys that could run that floor with him like a herd of deer. And they knew if they would get open, he was going to find them. Richard Jefferson, Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, later on Vince Carter. Even Jason Collins got down the floor. He had an uncanny knack for finding them in the right spots. And the ball came just at the right time.”

A six-game victory over the Boston Celtics in the conference finals sent the Nets to the 2002 NBA Finals where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers, who won their third straight title behind Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

There were minor changes over the summer. The trade of Van Horn and MacCulloch to Philadelphia opened up a spot in the starting lineup for Jefferson. The Nets repeated as division champs and sweeps of Boston and Detroit gave them 10 straight playoff wins going into an NBA Finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. The franchise’s first NBA title eluded the Nets again as Tim Duncan and the Spurs won the second of their five championships.

In December 2004, Nets GM Rod Thorn made another deal that shook the NBA, acquiring Vince Carter from Toronto. With two All-NBA selections and five straight NBA All-Star Game appearances, the dynamic swingman was one of the league’s most exciting offensive talents.

Over 4½ seasons with the Nets, Carter averaged 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The following year the Nets won their fourth division title in five years while matching their second-best NBA record with a 49-33 finish.

As the era came to a close — Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter were all traded within 16 months — the Nets began their final season at the Meadowlands in the fall of 2009. The future pointed in a new direction.

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