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5 NEW JERSEY NETS

Oct. 23, 1995
Oct. 23, 1995

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Oct. 23, 1995

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5 NEW JERSEY NETS

As conditional statements go, a remark made recently by Net
point guard Kenny Anderson has a self-negating quality (sort of
like, I would smell better if I didn't embalm for a living).
Last season Anderson overdribbled, overpenetrated and overshot,
chucking a team-high 1,031 times and canning a fetid 39.9%. He
was pilloried by a teammate for selfishness, and he failed to
step up as a leader when the team had a glimmer of hope of
making the playoffs. But things will be different this year,
Anderson vows--with one small caveat. "I just want to have a
productive season," he says. "And to have a productive season, I
have to be stress-free."

This is an article from the Oct. 23, 1995 issue

Stress-free? In the swampland of East Rutherford? As a former
president often said: "Nah gawn happen." For those who don't
know, that would be Bush, which would also describe the Nets'
operation. From its choice of practice facilities (one is a
trucking company's rec center) to its inept management (which
actually downgraded the team in the '94 draft) to its inconstant
star ($7.5-million-a-year Derrick Coleman), this outfit could
wipe the smile off the Dalai Lama. And the worst of it is that
this team still has the talent to be good--very good.

Start with Anderson. Despite battling nagging injuries and a
constant funk last season, he finished second in the league in
assists, with 9.4 per game, and shot a career-high 33% from
three-point range. "Kenny's one of those kids who doesn't think
he's ever going to have a bad game," says G.M. Willis Reed. "But
he can have a bad week or a bad season. He'll be an All-Star
again." Anderson's aim is to be one again quickly; after the
season, as an unrestricted free agent, he'll be looking for $5
million a year.

Then consider Coleman (page 10). At 28, he is a power forward
who can run, shoot, handle the ball, rebound and, on occasion,
defend as well as--or better than--any other. That is, when he
isn't promising to 1) take the Nets to the title or 2) desert
the Nets before they hit rock bottom. Coleman is just as
inconsistent from game to game on the floor, where he shot 42.4%
last year. "I've known Derrick since high school," says forward
Jayson Williams. "Whatever he says, I let it go right over my
head. One problem is, he can intimidate the younger guys. So
it's very important he plays here and plays with the right
attitude. If you see Derrick doing it, it spills over."

Fortunately, the Nets may now have a younger guy who can give
Coleman's 'tude a tune-up. Because of a bum left knee, Ed
O'Bannon slipped to No. 9 in the draft, where New Jersey was
only too happy to take him. O'Bannon, the heart and soul of
national champ UCLA, will replace free agent Chris Morris at
small forward, which in terms of dependability is like replacing
a Yugo with a Volvo. "I'm not going to try to come in and be a
vocal leader," O'Bannon says. "I'm not going to try to persuade
anyone to take up my style, because these are grown men.
Everyone has families, gets paid millions of dollars. It's not
my place."

Reed can only hope O'Bannon's knee is as solid as his character,
because his last roll of the draft dice has already come up
snake eyes. Holding the 14th pick and desperately needing a
shooting guard in '94, Reed passed over Wesley Person in favor
of balky-kneed Yinka Dare, a raw 7-footer from Nigeria by way of
George Washington University who played all of three minutes in
'94-95 and is, Reed admits, at least two years away from
becoming even a contributor. There's one big problem: The Nets
need a starter now, after giving up Benoit Benjamin in the
expansion draft and opting not to re-sign Dwayne Schintzius.

It is thus that Coleman pouts: Not only did New Jersey fail to
improve its roster, but now he may also be pressed into
splitting time in the pivot with Williams and Armon Gilliam.
What do the Nets expect from Dare? "I don't know," Williams
says. "Yinka doesn't even know how old he is. He could be 40.
When he was growing up, he used to put an X on a tree every
year. But after 20 he lost track because somebody cut the tree
down."

Butch Beard is 48, but he might feel 52: That's how many
lackluster L's were carved into his soul as the Nets' rookie
coach last year. He scrapped with Coleman about the team's dress
code, unsuccessfully tried to rein in Anderson, watched both of
them jack warmup-distance jumpers at crunch time and struggled
without a reliable 2-guard. That last obstacle was not
surmounted in the past off-season either, which means the Nets
need Kevin Edwards to recover from a partially torn Achilles
tendon that caused him to miss 68 games last year.

So unless Coleman and Anderson commit themselves to turning
things around, it figures to be another malodorous year in
Jersey. Talk about stress!

--H.H.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH If Anderson can get his game back together, New Jersey may see a Net gain. [Kenny Anderson]

BY THE NUMBERS

1994-95 TEAM STATISTICS

PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)
OFFENSE 98.1 (22) .436 (27)
DEFENSE 101.2 (13) .461 (13)

THEY CAN'T FIND THE NET

Kenny Anderson led the Nets last season with a
17.6-points-per-game average, which ranked him 30th overall in
the NBA. (Derrick Coleman averaged 20.5 but did not have enough
total points or games played to qualify.) It has now been almost
two decades since a Net has ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in
scoring. Bernard King finished 10th in 1977-78, the only time a
Net has done so, making New Jersey's 17-season drought the
longest current streak in the NBA by a wide margin.

Drought Last player in NBA's
top 10 scorers (PPG)

Nets 17 seasons Bernard King,
1977-78 (24.2)
Cavaliers 9 seasons World B. Free,
1985-86 (23.4)
Lakers 8 seasons Magic Johnson,
1986-87 (23.9)
Celtics 7 seasons Larry Bird,
1987-88 (29.9)
Hornets 7 seasons (none since entering
the NBA in 1988-89)

PLAYER TO WATCH

As the Nets sputtered down the stretch last season on their way
to the lottery, forward-center P.J. Brown let out his
frustrations. "I want to be proud to be a New Jersey Net," he
told the New York Daily News. "I want to walk through malls with
my head held high." If any player on the Nets deserves
better--or, at the very least, to be warmly greeted as he
strolls past Crabtree & Evelyn--it's Brown, who shows up to
games earlier, plays harder and follows orders better than
anyone else on the team. He was New Jersey's second-round pick
out of Louisiana Tech in the 1992 draft but suited up in Greece
for a season before coming to the NBA. Last season Brown started
63 games on the strength of his hounding defense; he even won
an informal bet with coach Butch Beard by holding Boston's
Dominique Wilkins under 14 points. "There're what, 320 jobs in
the NBA?" Brown says. "I just appreciate having one." He was
third on the team in minutes played last season, averaging 31
per game, and considering the Nets' problems at center, the
6'11" Brown will be an even more vital cog this year.

PROJECTED LINEUP

STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics

SF Ed O'Bannon Rookie; ninth overall pick, from UCLA
PF Derrick Coleman 20.5 ppg 10.6 rpg 1.68 bpg
C Jayson Williams 4.8 ppg 5.7 rpg 46.1 FG%
PG Kenny Anderson 17.6 ppg 9.4 apg 1.43 spg
SG Kevin Edwards 14.0 ppg 40.0 3FG% 95.2 FT%

TOP RESERVES

F-C Armon Gilliam 14.8 ppg 7.5 rpg 50.3 FG%
F-C P.J. Brown 8.1 ppg 6.1 rpg 1.69 bpg
G Vern Fleming 4.6 ppg 2.0 apg 49.5 FG%