1. 1973-74 New York Nets
The New York Nets entered the offseason in 1973 with holes to fill.
Head coach Lou Carnesecca returned to his old job at St. John’s University after three seasons with the Nets and New York turned to unproven Kevin Loughery to coach the club.
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The 33-year-old had just retired as a player and had a 31-game stint as player-coach of the Philadelphia 76ers the previous season, going 5-26 after inheriting a 4-47 squad.
In early May, the Nets made a bold move, signing rookie forward Larry Kenon out of Memphis State. Why was it a bold move? New York didn’t own the rights to Kenon, who had been taken by the Memphis Tams in a “special circumstances draft” conducted by the ABA in January.
But Memphis was a financial disaster and had been for years and the ABA let Kenon remain with the Nets, allowing the Tams to choose two players in September from an unprotected list to compensate for not getting Kenon.
However, the biggest move — the seismic shift in the ABA hierarchy — happened on Aug 1. The Nets purchased the contracts (yes, plural) of Julius Erving, the superstar forward for the Virginia Squires who had tried to jump to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks the previous preseason.
Erving was young, just 23, and entering his third season in the pros. But he was already a clearly established star after averaging 29.4 points and 14.1 rebounds a game for the Squires in his first two years.
Despite the star-powered additions, New York struggled early, losing 10 of their first 14 games, including nine straight. But they followed those early growing pains with a run of 15 wins in 17 games to get over the .500 mark and rolled from there.
After the deal, New York was virtually unbeatable, as the Nets went 22-9 the rest of the way, winning the Eastern Division with a 55-29 mark, two games better than Kentucky.
The Nets opened the playoffs by dominating Erving’s old Squires club in five games and then blasted the Colonels in a four-game sweep to return to the ABA Finals for the second time in three seasons.
New York took the drama out of the Finals with the Utah Stars quickly, taking a 3-0 series lead before Utah claimed Game 4 in Salt Lake City. The Nets wrapped up the crown with a 111-100 win at home in Game 5 for their first championship.
Erving was a slam dunk as the ABA MVP, easily outpolling Artis Gilmore of the Colonels by a 49-9 margin.
Kenon joined Erving on the East All-Star team and was an All-Rookie selection along with undrafted free agent John Williamson. Gale, meanwhile, was named to the All-Defensive team.