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The "Curse of Thorn" Strikes Again

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.

Or you could call it hope.

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. So far, it's holding. Kidd's averages went way down, from near triple double averages to all singles...and the Mavs dropped three of four games in the first round to the Hornets.

In his 51 games with the Nets this 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 "triple double" category numbers dropped, 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 in his time 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.

It wasn't just the point spread between him and Paul or the blowouts that fashioned the Hornets' wins. It 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.

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 is Stevie Jackson, who Thorn dumped unceremoniously in 2001. In spite of behavioral issues, Jackson is now a bona fide 20 point scorer and a leader in Golden State. And, oh yeah, he has a ring, won with the Spurs at Nets’ expense.

You could also 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 12 former Nets, including Kidd—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. There has been somewhat of a drop, 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. Since then, there has been a slight dropoff, to 19.4 and 7.4. But after this year'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, it appears Marbury is a lot more "done" than Kidd.

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. Since then, his numbers dropped off. In the four years since, Van Horn averaged 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and played in 261 games for the Sixers, Knicks, Bucks and Mavs. His three point shooting had an uptick, from 34.6% to 38.1%. He is now back with Nets--sort of--at age 32. (Is there a reverse curse for players who come back? Does it entail paying 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 last in the season. He averaged 9.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. Then after being trade 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. Now a color analyst for the Sixers’ radio network.

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 scheme. So, Thorn bought him out at more than $30 million. His career has since tailed off considerably. In the four and a half years since the buyout, Mutombo’s numbers have dropped to 3.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He will retire this year.

Kenyon Martin: The Nets were unwilling to pay Martin the $92.5 million Kiki Vandeweghe was willing to pay him. Lucky for Thorn. Kmart's Nets numbers were super: 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds plus two trips to the NBA Finals. In his four years with the team, he did miss an average of 11 games a season, but once he moved to Denver, he went into a physical spiral downward. His numbers are not that far off his numbers in New Jersey, averaging 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, but games to lost to injury—and two microfracture surgeries—have mounted. In his three and a half years with the Nuggets, KMart has missed 129 games or about 40% of all of Denver's games.

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 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 it was known he had a bad back. Cleveland liked what they had seen in the Nets’ two trips to the Finals and 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 trade Williams, offering him for Sasha Pavlovic and Dahntay Jones. No takers. Then he was sent to Toronto in the Vince Carter deal. Since then, he has played for the Raptors and Clippers, but minimally. In three plus years, he has averaged only 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 130 games. He was cut by the Clippers late in the season and may finally be considering retirement.

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 time on the court in any of them, playing in only 159 games. He scored at a 4.9 point clip.

The $15 Million Men: Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore. That’s the amount of contracts signed by Scalabrine and Moore and 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 times with the Nets. And while "Veal" was a fan favorite in New Jersey, until this year he was the subject of boo-birds in Boston. Moore’s scoring numbers have dropped a bit from his time in New Jersey, from 9.8 to 8.5. His rebounding is up slightly.

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 and 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 took a look at the MRI’s and decided he was worth the risk. He wasn’t. Since then, Abdur-Rahim has averaged only 10.7 points and 6.8 boards. More importantly, he is out for the year with a knee injury on the same knee the Nets were worried about.

Some other players could have made out 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.

Thorn’s other strengths and weaknesses are well know among Nets' fans. His trades are usually on the phenomenal end of the scale, his draft record is highly respected. Consider Nenad Krstic, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone and Sean Williams, all lottery-level talent taken outside the lottery. Free agency, however, is a disaster. (Thorn should not be allowed to sign another free-agent whose last name begins with "M", considering how well he has done with Alonzo Mourning, Ron Mercer, Jeff McGinnis, and Jamaal Magloire.)

Now, with Kidd gone—and with confidante and draft guru Ed Stefanski in Philly, his ability to work good deals--along with the "Curse of Thorn"--will be tested. As for Kidd, he should have been careful what he wished for.