The Brooklyn Nets entered their 2nd decade in the NBA with 5 straight playoff trips. Dark times loomed, but here are their 10 best players from 1986-96.
The New Jersey Nets — now known as the Brooklyn Nets — had made five consecutive postseason appearances coming out of their first decade in the NBA, but hard time were straight ahead on the horizon.
The Nets fell from 39 wins in 1985-86 to just a 24-58 record in 1986-87 and they would be a non-entity for the next five seasons, losing at least 56 games every year and burning through three head coaches and an interim head coach in that span.
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Dave Wohl was fired 15 games into the 1987-88 season after a 2-13 start and replaced by interim head coach Bob MacKinnon, who went 10-29 before former New York Knicks great (and former head coach) Willis Reed was hired late in the year.
The Nets were 7-21 under Reed to finish 19-63, their worst record since joining the NBA and the second-worst winning percentage (.232) to that point in franchise history, ahead of only the 1968-69 New York Nets club that was 17-61 (.218).
It didn’t get much better in Reed’s first full season, a 26-56 finish that ended with Reed vacating the spot on the front of the New Jersey bench to the front office as GM.
He hired Bill Fitch, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics who had led the Celtics to the 1981 NBA title and taken the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986.
In Fitch’s first season, the Nets were a franchise-worst 17-65 and improved to 26-56 in 1990-91 after getting first overall pick Derrick Coleman.
In 1991-92, the Nets won 40 games and returned to the postseason, losing to Cleveland in four games in the first round after adding No. 2 overall pick Kenny Anderson.
Fitch resigned at the end of the season and Reed scored a coup by luring future Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly from the Detroit Pistons. The Nets were improved, but struggled after Anderson broke his wrist in February and finished 43-39, their first winning record since 1984-85.
Even without Anderson available, New Jersey pushed Cleveland to the full five games in the first round before being eliminated.
The franchise was rocked in June 1993 by the death of All-NBA shooting guard Drazen Petrovic, who was killed when the car he was riding in crashed on the autobahn in Germany.
New Jersey shook off the loss of Petrovic and won 45 games before losing to the Knicks in four games in the first round.
Daly resigned after the season and was replaced by Reed’s former assistant coach in New York, Butch Beard, who had just been fired as head coach at Howard University.
The 1994-95 season was basically a disaster. The Nets used a first-round pick on George Washington center Yinka Dare, Coleman missed 28 games with injuries, shooting guard Kevin Edwards missed 68 with a ruptured Achilles and New Jersey collapsed to 30-52.
The young core of Coleman and Anderson was dismantled the following season, with Coleman traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and Anderson dealt to the Charlotte Hornets.
The Nets closed their second NBA decade with another 30-52 mark — strangely appropriate as they were 300-520 for the 10-year period from 1986-96 and made just three playoff appearances.
It was a decade marked by bad trades, bad draft picks (lest we forget the immortal Dennis Hopson, taken third overall in 1987) and general bad luck.
There were some bright spots along the way, even amidst all the losing. Here are the Nets’ 10 best players for their second NBA decade, from the 1986-87 season through 1995-96, with a minimum of 150 games played in the period.