You could call it the "Curse of Thorn" – an affliction that affects players once they are traded bought out or otherwise let go by the Nets’ President of Basketball Operations.
Rod Thorn has had an uncanny ability to tell when his players are on the downside of their career. With the Jason Kidd trade, the "curse" was once again tested. Typically, Kidd's averages went way down, from near triple double averages to triple singles.
In his 51 games with the Nets last season, Kidd averaged 11.3 points, 10.4 assists and 8.1 rebounds, shooting a miserable 36.6% overall and 35.6% from the arc. In his 29 games with the Mavs, those numbers plummeted, to 9.9, 9.5, and 6.5 although his shooting did improve to 42.6% and 46.1%. And while he had 12 triple doubles last season in New Jersey, he had only one in Dallas. In the playoffs, the numbers dropped further, to 8.6 points, 6.4 assists and 6.8 rebounds...and Chris Paul ran by him relentlessly. This season, the decline has continued with Kidd averaging 8.8, 8.3 and 6.5.
It was the playoffs that made people notice how Kidd had declined. It wasn't just the point spread between him and Paul. There was the broad agreement that Kidd, who was spoken of in the same breath as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson in January, was being described as "done" in May. Kidd did win his second Olympic gold in Beijing this summer, but played few minutes.
There are exceptions to the Curse, like Alonzo Mourning, but his was a special case, involving kidney surgery and a desire to go home to Miami for one last and, as it turned out, successful shot at a championship. Anthony Johnson has also done well since the Nets dumped him…and of course, there's Stevie Jackson, who Thorn dropped unceremoniously in 2001. In spite of behavioral issues, Jackson is now a bona fide 20 point a game scorer and (sometimes) a leader in Golden State. And, oh yeah, he has a ring, won with the Spurs at Nets’ expense. Eddie House, too, did well after leaving the Nets, becoming an intregral part of the Celtics' championship team.
You can argue that the Nets have kept some players too long, like Jason Collins and yes, like Kidd, but for the most part, Thorn has done well. A NetsDaily statistical analysis of what happened to more than a dozen former Nets—plus almost-Net Shareef Abdur-Rahim—shows marked career declines, both in terms of traditional measures, like scoring and rebounding, as well as in value...and health.
Take a look:
Stephon Marbury: The Curse begins here. Marbury hasn't had such a calamitous fall on his individual stat sheet but more importantly, everyone knows that in the seven years since Thorn traded Marbury for Kidd, "All Alone 33"s value has plummeted. In the years leading up to the trade, Marbury had averaged 21 points and 8.2 assists. He had been All-NBA. Since then, there has been a slight dropoff statistically, to 19.4 and 7.4. But the real decline is in his value. After last season's performance--complete with a one-game strike, a unanimous vote of no-confidence by his teammates, a lengthy bereavement leave, a locker room ban, and ankle surgery--not to mention career lows of 13.9 and 4.7, Marbury was a lot more "done" than Kidd. This season? Don't even start. He hasn't.
Keith Van Horn: In his five years with the Nets, ending with his trade in August 2002, Van Horn averaged 18.2 points and 7.6 rebounds over 314 games. In the next four, Van Horn averaged 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and played in 261 games for four teams, the Sixers, Knicks, Bucks and Mavs. His three point shooting did have an uptick, from 34.6% to 38.1% but no one noticed. Of course, he did help the Nets at the end of last year, agreeing to come out of retirement to accept a $4.2 million deal from Mark Cuban and be traded as part of the Kidd deal. (Is there a reverse Curse for players who come back? Does it entail having someone else pay them $4.2 million?)
Todd MacColloch: In his lone year with the Nets, "Big Todd" played a vital role until a mysterious foot injury slowed him late in the season. He averaged 9.7 points and 6.1 rebounds and Kidd called him the best big man he played with. Then after being traded to Philly, he missed 40 games and had significantly lower numbers: 7.1 and 4.7. Moreover, it was his last year in the NBA. The foot injury wasn’t an injury at all. It was a genetic condition that hurt his ability to walk. He did win several million dollars in an arbitration and is now an analyst for the Sixers’ radio network…and championship level pinball player but he never played again.
Dikembe Mutombo: The man Van Horn and MacColloch was traded for, Mutombo had astounding numbers on arrival in New Jersey. For his career, he was averaging 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds, having already passed the 10,000 career mark in both. More impressive was his shot-blocking, a gaudy 3.4 per game. But Mutombo suffered a broken wrist, his first major injury, in New Jersey and didn’t fit well in the Nets' offensive scheme. More importantly, rule changes, like the defensive three second rule, hurt him. So, Thorn bought him out at more than $30 million, the biggest buyout in NBA history, then and now. His career has since tailed off considerably. In the four and a half years since the buyout, Mutombo’s numbers are 3.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He’s back with Houston, at age 42.
Kenyon Martin: The Nets were unwilling to pay Martin the $92.5 million Kiki Vandeweghe ultimately paid him. Lucky for Thorn. Kmart's numbers in New Jersey were super: 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds plus two trips to the NBA Finals. In his four years with the Nets, he did miss an average of 11 games a season, but once he moved to Denver, he went into a downward physical spiral. His numbers there are not that far off his numbers in New Jersey, 13.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, but games to lost to injury—and microfracture surgeries—mounted. In his five years with the Nuggets, KMart has missed 134 games or more than one-third of all of his team's games…that's more than any player in the NBA over that period. This year, both he and Denver are doing better, with Martin averaging 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. But is that worth the $14.4 million he makes this season and the $46.6 million he’s still owed over the rest of his contract?
Richard Jefferson isn’t playing as well as he did in New Jersey although he isn’t playing that badly either. Still the second highest scoring Net in team history was averaging only 17.3 points (down from 22.6 last year) on only 42.7 percent (down from 46.6) and 2.1 assists (down from 3.1) entering Friday’s game. He even takes three fewer foul shots than his career-high 8.3 per game a year ago. Give the Curse some time to work.
Kerry Kittles: Nets' fans were furious the summer of 2004 when the team traded Kerry Kittles to the Clippers for a second round pick and a $10.2 million trade exception. The Nets even had to send $1.5 million to the Clips. Bad trade for LA. Kittles played in 11 games in 2004-05 and has not played since. He went from a career averages of 14.3 points and 37.8% three point shooting with the Nets to 6.3 points and 33.3% in those 11 games. Kittles gave assistant coaching a shot last year but hasn’t been seen much this year, as he tries to complete an MBA.
Lucious Harris: After averaging 10 points for the three prior years, he dropped to below seven in 2003-04 and the Nets bought him out for $1 million on a $2.6 million contract. The deal was not popular even though he had a bad back. Cleveland liked what they had seen in the Nets’ two trips to the Finals and so signed him. But the back problems that worried Thorn got worse and he averaged only 4.3 points and shot only 32.3% from the arc for the Cavs in 2004-05, his last year in the league. In his seven years with the Nets, he had averaged 6.2 points and shot 34.1%.
Aaron Williams: Thorn’s first free agent pickup in 2000, he was productive big man off the bench for the two Finals teams. During his four plus years in New Jersey, Williams averaged a solid 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 336 games. As a starter the year before Kidd arrived, he had averaged 10.1 points. But early in the 2004-05 season, the Nets began trying to move Williams, offering him for Sasha Pavlovic and Dahntay Jones. No takers. Then he was sent to Toronto in the Vince Carter deal. He played for the Raptors and Clippers, but minimally. In three plus years, he averaged only 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds and only 130 games. He was cut by the Clippers late last season and is out of the game.
Eric Williams: The other Williams in the Carter deal, he played in only 21 games for the Nets, having spent nearly a decade elsewhere in the league. He had a reputation as a solid defender, a decent shooter and a glue guy. Plus, he’s from Newark. In 499 career games prior to being traded, Williams had respectable numbers: a career average of 9.7 points. He was averaging 12.6 points and shooting 42.5% from beyond the arc at the time of the Carter trade. Now out of the league, his last three years were spent in three different cities, with minimal court time in any of them, playing only 159 games. He scored at a 4.9 point clip. He too is done.
Marcus Williams, dealt this season, is perhaps the most striking example of the Curse. Once seen as a draft steal, he was a member of the NBA All-Rookie team in 2006-07. But poor conditioning, a lack of defense and a general sullenness pushed the Nets to trade him for a heavily protected first rounder. In his two years with the Nets, Williams averaged 6.2 points and 3.0 assists in 16 minutes a game over 132 games. Since joining the Warriors, he's scored exactly nine points in seven games and is deep in Don Nelson’s dog house.
The $15 Million Men: Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore: That’s the amount of contracts signed by Scalabrine and Moore after they rejected lesser deals from the Nets. Neither seems to be worth it. Scalabrine has averaged less than three points a game in Boston, a drop of a point per game from his time with the Nets. And while "Veal" was a fan favorite in New Jersey, he was the subject of boo-birds in Boston...until last year's championship season. Then, he became the human equivalent of a Red Auerbach cigar. He, House and Stevie Jackson are the only former Nets to win a ring. Moore’s scoring numbers in Sacramento dropped a bit last season from his time in New Jersey, 9.8 to 8.5. This season, however, his production has been poor, with averages of 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds. He has a buyout next season…and may have to find work elsewhere.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim: A special case, no doubt, but an instructive one. At the time the Nets offered him a $35 million deal in 2005, he was one of the league’s premier scorers upfront, with an 18.1 ppg career average as well as a solid rebounder, pulling down 7.6 per game. He had once scored 50 points in a game. But the Nets thought they detected a knee problem and wanted to rework the contract. Abdur-Rahim declined and the Kings' doctors took a look at the same MRI’s and decided SAR was worth the risk. He wasn’t. Abdur-Rahim averaged only 10.7 points and 6.8 boards in the next three years. He had to retire this year because of arthritis on the same knee the Nets were worried about.
Some other players could have made our list: Rodney Rogers, Marc Jackson, Linton Johnson III, etc. all now out of the league. Jeff McInnis falls into a whole separate category: competing curses. There are others as well: Jason Collins, done in by nagging injuries; Antoine Wright, on and off the bench in Dallas, Jamaal Magloire, seeing some time in Miami after failing in Dallas and Malik Allen, hanging on in Milwaukee, were all moved last season and none have had comebacks.
Thorn’s strengths and weaknesses are well known among Nets' fans. His trades are usually on the phenomenal end of the scale, his draft record is mixed at best. Nenad Krstic, was a lottery-level talent taken outside the lottery and Josh Boone is solid for a player taken at #23, but many picks have been disastrous. Sean Williams may have looked good last year and Marcus Williams two years ago, but neither is currently on the team. Wright and Mile Ilic were both busts, Wright mainly because of where he was taken…#15. This year’s group looks a lot better with Brook Lopez a steal of the draft and Ryan Anderson about to get his big chance with Yi Jianlian's injury. Until this season, free agency was even worse. Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling have been terrific and although Eduardo Najera has been hurt, he's now coming on strong. (One strong piece of advice re free agency: Thorn shouldn't be allowed to sign another player whose last name begins with "M", considering how well he has done with Alonzo Mourning, Ron Mercer, Lamond Murray, Jeff McInnis, and Jamaal Magloire.)
Now, the "Curse of Thorn"--will be tested again with Nenad Krstic who the Nets declined to re-sign this summer and is now in a Thunder uniform. As for Kidd--the Curse's biggest test, he should have been careful what he wished for. Wishes often turn into curses.