Many people come to mind when Nets fans reminisce over the early 2000s teams that went to two straight finals in 2002 and 2003. Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Byron Scott, and Richard Jefferson are among some of those names. One name every Nets fan will forever remember was the energetic, undersized yet effective power forward, Kenyon Martin. “K-Mart,” who only ended up playing 4 seasons with the Nets, was undoubtedly their second most important player during those two runs to the NBA Finals. Martin was the #1 selection in the 2000 draft by the New Jersey Nets, which also happened to be the first draft of Rod Thorn’s with the franchise. It has been 20 years since that draft, and Thorn believes the Nets lost their Eastern Conference Crown when they failed to resign Jason Kidd’s favorite alley-oop partner, Kenyon Martin.
Thorn Shares Thoughts on What Led to Nets Demise in Recent Interview with Ian Eagle
Thorn, a legend most notably recognized for drafting arguably the greatest player of all in Michael Jordan during the 1984 draft, turned the Nets from a joke to one of the most dangerous teams in the East with only a few draft picks and several roster moves. Outside of trading for Jason Kidd, who quickly became the leader and best player on the Nets, Thorn’s second-biggest move was drafting Kenyon Martin.
K-Mart’s numbers never jumped off the sheet. In 4 years with NJ, he averaged a respectable 15.1 ppg and 7.6 RPG. At 6’9, he was undersized for the power forward position but prided himself on being the most energetic player on the floor at all times. Hustling for loose balls, throwing down high-flying alley-oops from Jason Kidd, and scoring on second-chance opportunities were several of Martin’s strengths. Pair his energy and ability to get out in transition with an all-time distributor in Jason Kidd, and what we received on the court was some of the best basketball in the history of the New Jersey Nets franchise. To refresh your memory of just how ferocious a player Martin was, here are several highlights from his days with the Nets:
When asked by Ian Eagle about Kenyon Martin, Thorn had this to say: “We were never the same after Kenyon left. We never replaced him while I was there. Tremendous heart gave it his all, run the court, was great playing with Jason. A little undersized for Tim Duncan, but did a great job for us, loved it.” After the 03 seasons, Martin would play one more season with the Nets before eventually agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Denver Nuggets. According to an interview by Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson in 2018, Martin claims the Nets never offered him a contract after the 2004 season, forcing him to agree to a sign-and-trade with Denver for a lucrative seven-year $92.5M dollar contract.
Unfortunately, we all know how this story played out. Martin left after the 03-04 season, the Nets traded for Vince Carter to take over as the primary scorer, and while the pairing of Carter and Kidd were sensational together for several years, they never peaked quite as hard as the early 2000s Nets teams did. Nets fans will forever be grateful for Rod Thorn turning around the franchise in trading for HOF point guard Jason Kidd and drafting significant pieces in Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. But one could only wonder, what if the Nets had resigned K-Mart after that 03-04 season and continued to build off the Kidd/Martin/Jefferson trio? Could we have potentially returned to an NBA final if we ever found the right Center to pair with those three? These are the types of questions that have kept Nets fans up for the past 15 years, including me.