By Lorenzo Tanos
As I had started this series back when the Nets were still based in New Jersey, that's why we're featuring the now-Brooklyn Nets next in this series. As one of the four ABA teams to join the NBA after the 1976 merger between both leagues, the Nets haven't had the same amount of success relative to their 37 NBA seasons as they had in their nine-year ABA run. But they're a team on the way back up, thanks to recent acquisitions like Joe Johnson, the brilliant trade that sent Deron Williams to the team in exchange for Devin Harris, and Brook Lopez finally enjoying a healthy, productive season as starting center.
1. The Nets weren't always known as such – they used a different name during the ABA's inaugural season in 1967-68. What was that team nickname?
The New Jersey Americans. With a lineup led by NBA rejects Tony Jackson (banned due to point-shaving accusations) and Levern Tart (cut by the Boston Celtics as a rookie), the Americans finished 36-42 under head coach and early NBA scoring champion Max Zaslofsky.
2. And how many first-time NBA or ABA players were on that inaugural team?
Like a lot of the ABA's teams in the league's maiden 1967-68 season, the Americans were mainly made up of first-time professionals – former 1964 NBA Draft bust Art Heyman, Mel Nowell and Johnny Austin were the only players with previous NBA experience. Tony Jackson played briefly in the ABL in the early "60s, but most sources don't count the ABL when it comes to pro experience, despite sharing a lot of similarities with ABA rules. All in all, 14 players on the Americans, including the interestingly-named Johnny Mathis, had no NBA experience as of the 1967-68 season.
3. Which legendary NCAA coach was in charge of the New York Nets from 1970 to 1973?
In another example of NCAA coaches failing to replicate their success in their NBA stints, Lou Carnesecca of St. John's fame coached the Nets from 1970 to 1973, making the Playoffs in all three seasons but finishing 114-138 combined, good for a 45.2% winning percentage. Unfortunately, Carnesecca was out as Nets coach right before one Julius Winfield Erving joined the team and turned the Nets into a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
4. True or False – After Julius Erving was forced out of the Nets following the NBA-ABA merger, the team finished with the worst record in the NBA.
True. The Nets went from heroes to zeroes in just one season, as the team couldn't fulfill Erving's pay raise due to some merger-related snafu. With “Dr. J” joining the Philadelphia 76ers, Tiny Archibald injured for most of the season and players like Robert “Bubbles” Hawkins and Al Skinner leading the way, the Nets finished at a league-worst 22-60 in 1976-77. The Nets moved to New Jersey the following season.
5. What season did the Nets win their first-ever NBA Playoffs series?
1983-84. Ironically, the Nets defeated Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 1984 Playoffs, thanks to young talents like Buck Williams, Micheal Ray Richardson and Albert King, plus veterans Darryl Dawkins and Otis Birdsong.
6. Who was the leading scorer for the Nets in their disastrous 1989-90 season, where they finished 17-65 and endured a 14-game losing streak at one point?
Would you believe Dennis Hopson? Hopson is, as most of us know, one of the biggest draft flops in NBA history, a player the Nets selected eight picks ahead of Reggie Miller, the next available shooting guard in the 1987 Draft. 1989-90 was Hopson's best statistical year as a pro, and he averaged 15.8 ppg for the hapless Nets, who also featured another (mostly undeserved) regular in lists of all-time draft busts – Sam Bowie, who had a solid year with 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg.
7. Which Nets executive had proposed to rename the team as the New Jersey Swamp Dragons for the 1994-95 season?
Due to the poor reputation of the Nets as a team of young, selfish and overpaid sorts (including Derrick Coleman, Chris Morris and Kenny Anderson), then-Nets President Jon Spoelstra pushed for this name change, which had initially been approved by the team's owners but eventually rejected at the last minute. You may recognize Spoelstra's son Erik as a championship-winning NBA head coach with the Miami Heat.
8. The Nets hired another college coaching legend to coach the team in 1996, and once again, he failed to achieve even half of the success he did in the NCAA.
John Calipari coached all of the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons for the Nets, and the first 20 games of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season before being replaced. Coach Cal's record as an NBA head coach?72-112, or 39.1%.
9. The 2001 Draft saw the Nets trade Eddie Griffin, their highly-regarded, yet volatile first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets for three fellow first-rounders, one of them being Richard Jefferson. Who were the other two?
Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong were originally picked #18 and #23 respectively by the Houston Rockets, together with #13 overall pick Richard Jefferson. No need to elaborate how R-Jeff became a much bigger success in the NBA than the late Eddie Griffin. Collins was a starter for most of his first eight seasons with the Nets, though for a starting center, he was a poor rebounder and even worse as a scorer. Armstrong played three seasons for the Nets and averaged just 2.2 ppg as a third-string shooting guard.
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