"In eleven years its going to be 1984, man. Think about that!" - Russell Hammond
(Click on images to enlarge)
Wow, it is amazing what 11 years can do. In 1998, Jayson Williams was the emotional leader of the Nets, and was one of the most charismatic players in the league. There were tons of great PR stories about him, too, such as how he took care of his mother with Parkinson's and adopted his sister's children after she passed away from AIDS.
On a personal level, he was one of my favorite players at the time. I casually followed the Nets in 1995, and became a full-fledged fan in 1996. When I waited outside for autographs after the game, Jayson Williams would come out of his car and sign autographs for everybody. In fact, in sixth grade, we had a project where we had to send a teddy bear to different parts of the world. While other kids gave it to relatives or other family friends, I gave it to Jayson Williams after a game. Needless to say, I never got it back, as it most likely became target practice.
This coin, as ugly as it may be, is from my 4th favorite Nets season so far (2001-2004 being the clear numbers 1, 2, and 3). It is when I saw my team become, in a word, good. And Jayson Williams was the first Net I ever saw as an All-Star. It might have been the first (and maybe last) All-Star game I watched in its entirety, just to see "my guy" play.
However, 11 years later, he has done a complete 180 on his image. An unfortunate injury ruined his career in 1999, and he has not been able to stay out of trouble since. Everybody knows the story: He got drunk, shot a limo driver, and tried to cover it up. And, last week, it did not get any better.
However, this got me thinking: how have my perspectives changed on other key players from the 1997-1998 New Jersey Nets? Let's take a look:
Keith Van Horn
THEN: Oh. My. God. Larry Bird re-incarnate! A rookie, who, coming off injury, averaged 20/7 and led his team to the playoffs? Hell. Fucking. Yes.
NOW: Most people say he was soft and a bust, but I still feel we missed his presence in the 2003 Finals. According to Jayson Williams' book Loose Balls, Jayson was a mentor to Keith and gave him confidence on the court. While I've lost all trust in Williams now, I feel he's telling the truth here, as Van Horn's confidence and game went downhill once Williams left the team. He never became a franchise player, but sure got paid like one. He spent his final years as a journeyman, showed some signs of life in Dallas, and then retired because he didn't like basketball. But, he did play a key role in getting the Nets Devin Harris, so in the end I'd say he was a solid contributor to the Nets.
THEN: I'll admit, I didn't full appreciate Sam I Am while he was here. I thought he was too cocky and a ballhog - the games where he'd score 30+ points were games the Nets would usually lose. Plus, remember how I said Jayson Williams would sign everyone's autographs? Sammy would drive around the parking lot 4 times while kids chased the car, before rolling down the window and signing about 10 autographs. Jerk. I remember actually liking the Marbury trade.
NOW: Clearly, I was wrong (nothing new). Sam Cassell's stint on the Nets became a hallmark of his career - leading bad franchises to new heights. He did it with the 2002 Bucks, the 2004 Timberwolves, and the 2006 Clippers. Throw in 3 championship rings, and he's definitely going down as one of the most underrated players of my lifetime.
Kerry Kittles & Kendall Gill
THEN: Great wingmen. Gill was a scoring machine, and Kittles was the future of the franchise. I remember arguing that I'd rather have Kerry Kittles than Ray Allen.
NOW: Little did I realize that Gill was blazing the trail for other "good stats on a bad team" players with questionable personalities like Ricky Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Gerald Wallace. Gill really soured himself with me during the 2000 offseason. The Nets were desperate for a shooting guard and Gill was flirting with the Lakers - saying it was always a dream to wear the purple and gold and he'd take a paycut to win a championship. He rejected a 3 year, $15M deal from the Nets, and eventually settled on a one year, $7M deal. But, he phoned it in that year, playing on 31 games. Byron Scott, while not naming Gill specifically, said he was "stealing money." Gill never won a championship with the Lakers, or any other team. He never made up the $8M he would've gotten on the other contract, either, earning about $4.5M over the next 4 season on veteran's minimum contracts. Goes to show you: Karma's a bitch, Kendall.
EDIT 5/6: Looks like I might be wrong on those Kendall numbers, see the link in the comments below. But anyway, Kendall joined the Heat the following year and became part of the first Pat Riley team to miss the playoffs. You might have done better financially than I thought, but karma still owns you, Gill!
Kerry, on the other hand, is still a golden idol in my eyes. He valiantly fought back from multiple knee surgeries, and played 229 games out of 246 games in the next three seasons, hitting clutch shots and playing great defense on the 3 best Nets teams ever. He had to retire early due to injury (I hear he has trouble lifting his kids), but still attends Nets functions. He gave his all to this franchise, and out of all the players I'm profiling, he has held up the strongest over the 11 years.
THEN: I loved this coach. He was very passionate, constantly jumping up and down on the sidelines. In my young, 13-year-old mind, he was responsible for turning this team into a future contender. Granted, I didn't know much about what impact an NBA coach has. And I am still a little unclear...
NOW:...but I do know college coaches are self-serving egotists that never succeed in the NBA. John Calipari lost the team after the lockout and was gone shortly. I still pick Memphis to win in the tournament, but more as a joke rather than as an actual way to win the bracket pool (although they came close in 2008). I'll probably be picking Kentucky next year, too. But I really wish this guy would stop crying about how he wanted to pick Kobe.
THEN: Sherman Douglas was a great veteran leader for this young team. Sam was still young and immature as a leader at this time, and Sherman would come in during many games and right the ship. This season was the greatest season a Nets backup point guard ever had.
NOW: I still believe this. We could've used a Sherman Douglas type in the 2001-2004 years. Keyon Dooling, though, put up a strong campaign this year and earned himself the award of second best season by a Nets backup point guard.
THEN: Whiny bitch with a head scar.
NOW: Whiny bitch with a head scar.
THEN: Damn you! The Nets traded for you and lost 7 straight! You suck! David Benoit held the team together! Chemistry ruiner! We could have drafted Pat Garrity! Fucking awful trade! DIE DIE DIE!
NOW: Boy, he married well.
And. I'm. Spent. See you next week everyone!