2002: Jason Kidd
The New Jersey Nets were the NBA’s biggest surprise in 2001-02 when the All-Star break came around, already having blown by their previous season’s total of 26 wins by blitzing the Eastern Conference en route to a 32-15 record at the break.
Jason Kidd was the face of that resurgence to the top of the East and was named a reserve to the East’s All-Star squad in Philadelphia.
The 28-year-old Kidd had been an All-Star three previous times before he was acquired by the Nets in a five-player deal in July 2001 that sent All-Star guard Stephon Marbury to the Phoenix Suns.
In 47 games prior to the All-Star Game,. Kidd was averaging 14.3 points, 9.9 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 37.6 minutes per game, even while shooting just 37.7 percent overall and 32.1 percent on 4.7 attempts from 3-point range per game.
The Nets, meanwhile, were 3½ games clear of the Milwaukee Bucks at the top of the Eastern Conference at the break.
Kidd wound up being named a starter for the game when Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors opted out with a sore knee.
But he played just 18 minutes and finished with two points, three assists, a rebound and a steal, hitting 1-of-2 overall while missing his lone 3-point attempt.
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers took down MVP honors in the West’s 135-120 win, scoring 31 points with five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
The Nets didn’t maintain their torrid pace after the break, going 20-15, but still finished at the top seed in the East, two games ahead of the Detroit Pistons.
In the playoffs, the Nets — who had won a total of one playoff series in their first 25 NBA seasons — were pushed in the first round by the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers, needing the full five games before finally ridding themselves of the pesky Pacers with a 120-109 win at home in Game 5.
New Jersey settled in from there, taking down the Charlotte Hornets in five games in the Eastern semifinals and coming back from a 2-1 deficit to win the last three games while beating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Against the two-time defending champion Lakers, though, the Nets could do little in a four-game sweep.