The prologue that tells us that playing for the Nets in the 1990s was a punishment, not a privilege.
Well-known writer and blogger Suren Tsormudyan likes to start his wonderful documentaries from very far away. Therefore, if he wrote this text, it would begin like this: “About 135 million years ago, the supercontinent Laurasia broke up, forming Eurasia and North America, as well as the Isola Island and Westeros. On the northeast coast of America, the Appalachian mountain system forced out … ”But alas, I am not Suren, so I will not delve into the history of the emergence of the Delaware Strait and the settlement of New Amsterdam by the Dutch colonists. What matters to us is that in the 1977/78 season, the New Jersey Nets appeared in the NBA.
Strictly speaking, the Nets as a franchise were formed much earlier – back in 1967 as part of the ABA. At the same time, the team achieved its main historical successes. But we will not touch on the times of the biblical elders either. The period of interest to us is too remote on the time scale from the founding fathers. Creator of the team, Arthur Brown, has long since rested in his grave; Julius Irving and Buck Williams hung solemnly from the ceiling of the Continental Airlines Arena in the form of banners of honor and did not shine.
Of the heroes of the past, we will be primarily interested in Rod Thorne: in the seventies, he worked without visible success in the Nets as an assistant coach and also found the franchise moving from New York to a neighboring state. Thorn is indeed one of the most important people in the history of the New Jersey Nets, and we will return to his role in the ongoing events. The team that we, with pain in our hearts, saw in the finals two years in a row is his brainchild and his magnum opus, but this has nothing to do with Thorn’s unsuccessful coaching attempts.
In the nineties, the New Jersey Nets were going through times, let’s say, minor or even, pardon the expression, miserable. Okay, let’s get political correctness out of the way. If they ever create a Lost Franchise Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Nineties will get in on the first try, unanimously and without any competition.
However, the decade began quite rosy – as they say, nothing foreshadowed trouble. In a frankly wretched 1990 draft, the Nets pulled what seemed to be the diamond of the day, Syracuse University legend Derrick Coleman, an outrageously gifted power forward who was destined to be at least Karl Malone (yes, “at least”; remember, Malone then he was neither a double MVP, nor a finalist twice). Coleman was the perfect rookie – he showed unlimited potency (in every sense) and did not really interfere with the season. In the same year, the “basketball Mozart” Drazen Petrovich moved to the Nets, who was completely rotten on the Portland bench (and not just anyone, but Rick Adelman, although it would seem). But Adelman was still trying to play the pragmatist, he had to compete with Drexler,
Another season of tanking led to a second pick in the ’91 draft, in which the New Jerseys took point guard Kenny Anderson, the legend of the Queens streetball courts (the draft was even worse than the previous one – only Dikembe Mutombo broke out into really great players). The team in New Jersey was going to be decent, with such it was already possible to set serious goals, which was what coach Bill Fitch did. In general, the prospects for the Nets were the most optimistic.
Alas, in the NBA of the nineties, optimism was not a very justified worldview. Everything went downhill very quickly. Bill Fitch immediately ran into a whole range of problems, and it would be okay only for a game. For example, he had to, in the presence of an excellent player Mooky Blaylock in the team, to push into the composition of the raw and unprepared Kenny Anderson, who was imposed on him solely for one purpose – to attract the audience to the empty stands.
All this would be solvable – in ordinary teams with the usual “coach-player” interactions. The problem was that instead of a regular NBA team, Coach Fitch, one of the most respected coaches of the old school, got a snake kublo. By the middle of the 1991/92 season, a classic war of all against all had unfolded in New Jersey. The players openly sabotaged the coach’s decisions, quarreled with each other, general manager Willis Reed – another NBA legend, a member of the Hall of Fame, but a completely inexperienced manager – instead of crushing the srach with authority, whined something indistinct in the spirit of “These are working moments don’t rock the boat.” Although this is the same Willis Reed who once demonstrated a real example of the greatness of the human spirit, entering the floor in the final almost on crutches – which inspired such superstitious fear in the Lakers,
The main rebel in the team was, of course, Derrick Coleman, who at first demonstrated with all his might that Fitch was not worth a penny, and then became so embittered that he almost went to the coach hand-to-hand.
Only Fitch’s reputation and Coleman’s remnants of prudence saved the situation from chokeholds in the spirit of the Spriwell-Carlesimo fight. The coach himself until the last tried not to wash dirty linen in public, defending Coleman in every possible way in the press, but it was already clear that the team could not exist in this form. Quickly exhausted in the playoffs, where the Nets got to the first time since 1986, Fitch prudently resigned and went on vacation for a couple of years, from where he returned to lead … the Clippers. (Here we recall an episode from the novel The Living and the Dead, when the protagonist hardly leaves the German encirclement, sighs with relief and immediately falls into another “cauldron”, even worse than the previous one).
The Nets, on the other hand, made a knight’s move, inviting a very legendary coach – the great Chuck Daly with a powerful team of assistants (Paul Silas, Rick Carlisle and Brendan Sher). In Western cinema, the “Replacement Teacher” plot is very common, when a retired Marine or a tough undercover cop gets a job at a school for juvenile delinquents and quickly twists them into a ram’s horn. Apparently, the Nets leadership armed themselves with a similar logic: if Daly kept the Detroit Bad Boys in check, then he would somehow cope with these! .. However, Bill Fitch was not a cinematic, but a real former marine and even an instructor in combat training, which did not help him at all, but this is nothing, a matter of life.
The trouble was that the Bad Boys were mostly bad for rivals – in New Jersey, instead of a tight-knit mafia gang, Daly faced an unruly gang of anarchist bikers from Mad Max. Initially, the players were completely delighted with Daley’s candidacy and in every possible way painted the press how the new coach looks advantageous against the background of “that loshara”. The idyll did not last long, and soon the stars of the Nets experienced an unpleasant dissonance from the fact that the new coach also suddenly wants to achieve game discipline from them (in vain).
The team lived on its own, and Daly’s attempts to set up a manageable system were like repairs during a fire. After the departure of Mookie Blaylock, the threads of the game were solemnly handed over to Kenny Anderson, and then suddenly it turned out that Anderson was still more of a streetball star than an NBA point guard. Quite young, but authoritative and respected by the players, Terry Mills went to Detroit. Coleman continued to operate offline. “New Malone” could score 30 points in two matches in a row, and in the third give out 1 out of 13, was lazy, muddied the waters and, of course, continued to make the sports press happy with priceless revelations about life, basketball, his role in basketball, and most importantly – about incompetent teammates who prevent him from playing basketball.
The anarchy in the team was growing, and Daley, it seems, only now realized the disaster of what magnitude he had to face. In order to somehow balance the frenzy of young stars, Daly hastily recruited a brigade of elderly sergeants – Maurice Cheeks, Rick Mahorn, who had already left the NBA for Italy, and even the great Bernard King, who seemed to have finally ended his career because of sore knees. Willis Reed looked serenely at the attempts to bail water out of the Titanic’s hold with a saucepan and mumbled something soothing – they say, the dog barks, but the caravan moves on.
The caravan reached exactly the same point, as it did under the disgraced Bill Fitch – for the second time in a row, it took off in the first round from Cleveland. At the same time, it cannot be said that everything was completely hopeless – by the middle of the 1992/93 season, Daly managed to achieve obedience even from Coleman, establish a team game and create the illusion that this set of players is capable of something more. But after the MVZ, John Starks broke Kenny Anderson with a dirty trick, leaving the Nets in the hands of the great point guard Rumil Robinson, and it completely destroyed the system that Chuck Daley had worked so hard for. In a brutal fight with the Cavaliers, Coleman and company still managed to bring it to five games, and it all seemed to be quite promising …
Until the off season. Seemingly subsided contradictions broke out with renewed vigor. The veterans left, the young players sang the old songs about disrespect and low wages again, and Drazen Petrovic, already the second most important player on the Nets, dragged out negotiations for a contract extension and generally made it clear that he was not averse to returning to Europe.
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