I [Love] New Jersey
Keith Van Horn is a happy Net again, now that he is healthy and
plays with Jason Kidd
When the Nets in July dealt Stephon Marbury to the Suns for Jason
Kidd in a trade of All-Star point guards, the news surprised
Keith Van Horn. Says Van Horn, New Jersey's 6'10" power forward,
"I knew one of us was going to go, and I thought it would be me.
With Steph being a New York guy and being on the All-Star team
last year, I thought he'd be the one to stay."
Van Horn says Nets general manager Rod Thorn told him that four
or five teams discussed trades for him last summer. But potential
bidders were more interested in Marbury or small forward Kenyon
Martin. Van Horn's stock had dropped because he broke his leg
last year and was limited to 49 games, and because he was blamed
in part for the precipitous decline of the Nets. The team had won
just 34% of its games since its last playoff appearance, in 1998,
at the end of Van Horn's rookie season.
The trade the Nets made could not have turned out better for
them. As of Sunday, Kidd had transformed New Jersey into the
early Atlantic Division leader with a 5-1 start, the best in the
franchise's 26-year history. The biggest beneficiary of Kidd's
presence may be Van Horn, 26, who led New Jersey in scoring
(17.7 points per game), was second in rebounding (7.8) and was
showing signs of reemerging as one of the NBA's most promising
"Keith's attitude has changed," says veteran guard Kerry
Kittles. Van Horn admits his confidence had flagged in recent
years as he and other key New Jersey players were ravaged by
injuries and the organization struggled through turnovers in
ownership, management and coaches. "Maybe some guys in the
league don't care about losing, but it hurt me," he says. "I
told Rod Thorn that I wanted to be part of a better situation."
Van Horn insists, though, that he didn't ask to be traded.
For their part, Thorn and Nets coach Byron Scott remained hopeful
that Van Horn could return to his old form, in part because they
knew he hadn't regained full strength last year after breaking
his fibula in two places. Van Horn worked hard during the
off-season. "I feel things are improving," he says. "I feel much
more powerful and much more confident." He admits, however, that
he still occasionally passes up a shot he would have knocked down
a couple years ago, and through Sunday he led New Jersey in
turnovers, with 24.
With the arrival of Kidd, New Jersey has turned into a
high-energy club that attacks on every possession. That
aggressiveness has made the Nets one of the league's most
entertaining teams. "Jason is what we needed," Van Horn says.
"Jason and Stephon are very different players. Stephon is a great
scorer, a good passer. Jason is a great passer who looks to get
Though that comment appears to disparage Marbury's ability to
make his teammates better, Van Horn maintains that he and Marbury
never clashed during their three seasons together. "People looked
at us and said there must be a problem between Steph and me, but
there wasn't. Sometimes you have a great team on paper, but you
put it out on the floor and the guys don't play well together."
The Suns, who won at least 50 games under Kidd's leadership in
each of the last three full seasons, were 3-4 through Sunday
To be sure, Kidd has weapons at his disposal that Marbury didn't
have. Kittles is back, as athletic as ever, after missing last
season with a knee injury. The Nets are getting newfound
production inside, from former 76ers backup center Todd
MacCulloch, who seems worthy of the much-criticized six-year, $34
million free-agent contract Thorn gave him last summer. Sixth man
Richard Jefferson (9.8 points per game), the first player Thorn
chose after trading No. 7 pick Eddie Griffin to the Rockets for
selections Nos. 13, 18 and 23 in last June's draft, is
establishing himself as a leading rookie.
Kidd's arrival has done the most, though, for the forwards.
Martin, who's blossoming as a shot-blocker and finisher in
transition, is turning out to be an energetic complement to Van
Horn and his all-around skills. "We have a new offense, new
attitude, new players," says Van Horn. It's as if he had been
sent to a new place, without having had to pack up and leave.
U.S. Players Overseas
Look for the Union Label
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, alarms were raised
among the more than 3,000 Americans who play for pro basketball
clubs around the world. Some agents said their clients have been
especially afraid of traveling to Europe, where an estimated
2,000 U.S. players are employed. "If some players are fearful,
it's because they've never played in Europe," says David Rivers,
the Notre Dame star of the mid-1980s who routinely earned $1
million a season as the leading point guard on the Continent over
the past decade. Because most teams in Europe are limited to one
or two Americans, Rivers says, the clubs don't make likely
targets for attacks.
The real concern for a U.S. player, Rivers says, "is whether his
club is treating him properly. Is the team paying him on time, or
paying him at all? Is the player receiving health coverage? Has
the team given him an apartment with no heat or hot water?"
To deal with these worries, Rivers opened the American
International Players Association last June. He has signed up
nearly 100 dues-paying members playing in more than a dozen
countries. Rivers, who's running the AIPA out of his house in
Orlando, hopes to unify U.S. players, coaches and agents and use
that leverage to improve the standards of pro basketball
Such a far-flung endeavor could never succeed without the
Internet. The AIPA website (www.aipassociation.com) provides
members with, among other things, details on the vagaries of
foreign contracts, advice on what steps to take if a club refuses
to pay salaries (as well as a list of clubs that are known to
renege on contracts) and health-insurance information for players
and their families.
"The biggest problem for the American player is that there's so
little information," says Rivers, 36, who played for Olympiakos
of Greece last year and hopes to compete again in Europe
sometime this season. "If our players came together as a group,
we could form one of the largest sports entities in the world."
around the Rim
A surprising trend seemed to be developing last week when the
Pistons, the Celtics and the Warriors beat the Wizards while
using single coverage against 38-year-old Michael Jordan who led
Washington's scoring in all three losses. Previous opponents had
played into the Wizards' hands by inviting Jordan to pass out of
the double-team. "The other guys on that team get better when
you aren't guarding them," explained Golden State coach Dave
Cowens.... In spite of predictions that offense would suffer
under the new rules permitting zone defenses, at week's end
scoring was up by almost three points per team per game over
this time last year: 95.8 compared with 93.0. Ten clubs were
averaging more than 100 points; only one, Toronto, was scoring
that much at the same point last season.... In yet another
reminder of the dangers of Alonzo Mourning's kidney disease, the
Heat sidelined him for two games last week after a bout with a
stomach virus. Doctors needed to be certain that Mourning was
well hydrated before they permitted him to return to action....
The NBA opened the season with 10 African-American head
coaches--more than the NFL (three head coaches) and major league
baseball (five managers) combined.... Seen at Utah games:
unemployed center Olden Polynice, who made the mistake of opting
out of his $2.5 million Jazz contract in a year in which teams
cut back to avoid the luxury tax.