One of the age old questions that any New Jersey Nets fan asks is: had Kenyon Martin not left, would the Jason Kidd-led team of the early 2000s that went to back to back championships have won a NBA ring or two?
Well, why not ask the man yourself?
“We would have had a couple of championships down, no doubt,” Kenyon Martin told me on yesterday’s episode of Scoop B Radio.
“I think we were a couple moves away. I think we needed at the time, we needed a true center to deal with a lot of the likes of Shaq and them. But I definitely think we would have had a couple of championships. Us and the Pistons would have battled it out. There is not a doubt in my mind what we could have done. Had management not made the decisions not to pay me.”
The Nets boasted talented led by all star point guard Jason Kidd. The team also heralded Kerry Kittles, Martin, Keith Van Horn and a young forward in Richard Jefferson. In 2002 the Nets played the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and were swept in 4 games. The Lakers were a behemoth of talent that included both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and well-rounded supporting cast of Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, Samaki Walker and Derek Fisher.
At 6’9, Martin covered everybody defensively. To quote gospel singer Shirley Cesar : You name it! Martin revelled in the opportunity. “Oh it was a wake-up call just to see a well-played team played together,” said Martin.
“I have never been afraid when it comes to basketball, period. I’m not afraid to mix it up with guards or big men. But that experience there was a good team and we got to, but Shaq was dominant that series. We got to being out there and playing on that level, me holding my own, helping my team and putting them in a position to win. That meant a lot that I was there for my career and my confidence moving forward.”
The Nets would return to the NBA Finals in 2003 facing Tim Duncan, David Robinson and a Gregg Popovich-led San Antonio Spurs. They’d lose, but the Nets had a legitimate chance to win.
Martin thinks so too!
“Yes,” he said. “If we go home and win because we split in San Antonio. So we came home and they went up two games to one and we tied it up so it was 2-2. And we lost game five.
“So that put us behind the eight ball having to go back to San Antonio to win a game. They had a good team, Tim Duncan played his ass off. He made plays, he blocked; that is why he was the finals MVP. He played his ass off. I have to take my hat off to him, he played well. He put them on his back and they followed him. Guys made open shots when they had to and Stephen Jackson made threes in game six. It was a collective effort, but Tim [Duncan] definitely led them. But we definitely had an opportunity to win that.”
After the 2003 NBA Finals, things would change for the Nets. Jason Kidd would sign a 6-year, $99 million deal to stay with the New Jersey. The Nets acquired Alonzo who’d missed the season before due to his worsening kidney condition and after a 22–20 start to the season, Byron Scott was fired as head coach and was replaced with lead assistant Lawrence Frank. “We had a target on our back,” said Martin.
“People wanted to beat us and teams weren’t going to let us keep running through the east. So teams got better. “I don’t think we made enough moves to better our team, but we were right there. We still proved we were one of the better teams in the east. So it was one of those things, Indiana came in first and they came in first in the east. It was just one of those things man. Teams got better and I think we stayed the same.”
New Jersey would salvage their season after going on a 14-game winning streak at the midpoint of that season and would finish with a 47–35 record record and a Division Championship and number 2 spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
The Nets would sweep Hudson River rivals New York Knicks in round one of the 2004 NBA playoffs. They’d lose in round two of the NBA Playoffs to the Detroit Pistons, the eventual NBA Champions in seven games. The only constant thing in life is change. The Nets didn’t and the east got better. “Yeah that is what it is,” Martin said. “You gotta make moves man. You can’t stay the same. You have to make moves to get what you need and what you are missing. You’ve got to make moves.”
Following the season, Martin was traded to the Denver Nuggets. When asked if he could turn back the hands of time, K-Mart was honest. “Yeah it wasn’t up to me man,” he said.
“They didn’t offer me a contract and that is what people don’t know. Like those people didn’t offer me a contract, you know what I’m saying? So when they offered me the year before, I left to go to Denver. The summer before, they offered me 6 years $66 million. I turned it down and told them I would play the year out and see how it goes.
“I made the All-Star team that year. So they made the decision not to pay me and it’s because the new management. It wasn’t because of Rock Thorn or because of Lawrence Frank, it was because of management. It was Bruce Ratner. He was the owner of the group that bought the team and they made the decision not to pay me. They didn’t even call me to offer me a contract. So I waited around and I waited around and they never called. I had to do what was best for me and my family.”
That summer that Martin was banished, they’d also trade Kerry Kittles to the Los Angeles Clippers and Rodney Rogers signed with the New Orleans Hornets. The Nets would later try to attempt a facelift by acquiring Vince Carter, but the team was never the same.
Just for kicks and giggles, here’s the million dollar question: If K-Mart, Vince Carter were on the Nets with J-Kidd, would they have won a title? “Yes, without a doubt, without a doubt,” said Martin. “That is a great piece. We were running, jumping, having fun, being athletic and he would fit right in with that.”
Aside from the Nets days, Martin delved into other topics. His style of play resonates with today’s NBA. Martin thinks that it would fare in today’s league. “I can hold my own,” said Martin.
“That is the way to play the game of basketball. With another element added to it. I am a defender. I feel I can score with the ball when given the opportunities. I feel like I can hold the ball because I am not going to do things that aren’t my strong suit. I’m going to do what I do and yeah the floor is wide open for athletes to make plays and I’m going to be a two way player without a doubt. So I think I would fare well in this NBA.”
K-Mart shared with Scoop B Radio the time he and Alonzo Mourning had a war of words during morning shoot around. “It was one incident that we got into but it turned around,” said Martin.
“I think Alonzo looked at me like I should have been working as hard as he was in shoot arounds and stuff. I was never a shoot around guy I was never like that. I have never understood the purpose of shoot arounds you know, just being honest. Why are we here? I’m just going to go home and go back to sleep. That was my thing. Alonzo used to go dumb hard all the time because he was old school and he wants to go all the time. I guess I wasn’t doing that and I had sprained my ankle against Minnesota and I came back so we are practicing and it was an offensive rebounding drill and it’s me and RJ on the same team and him and whoever was on the other team. So we’re doing the drill or what not, so whoever gets the most offensive rebounds on the team’s got to run. However many rebounds you missed you had to do a round down and back or what not. So we are on the sideline laughing and joking and what not. They can’t keep us off the glass, but we were having a good time and it ain’t nothing fierce at that point.”
“So ‘Zo got mad and go at me and was like: ‘why don’t you go and get your ass off the training table.’ I was like: ‘who the hell you talking about brah?’ So me being who I am was like: ‘you gotta be worrying about your own, my exact words were ‘You gotta worry about your own mother fucking kids and stop worrying about me.’ He didn’t like that too much.”
So who won the fight? “We didn’t even fight, there was no punches thrown so it wasn’t like that,” said Martin.
Martin said former Net Aaron Williams was instrumental in diffusing the situation. “Aaron Williams said: ‘nah just let him go,’” said Martin.
“Like boy I have seen your fight with Larry Johnson and I’ll wear you out in here. I have seen your fight. So that’s all that was. So after the fact, what I [realized that what I] had said was hurtful and so I apologized to him. That never got noted that I apologized to the man. Like maybe I took it over the line, you know what I am saying? But at that time I wanted that action like you are coming at me for no reason.”
Martin also weighed in on the comparisons made between his former Nets and Knicks teammate Jason Kidd and newly minted Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball. “I see the size comparison,” said Martin.
“He is tall and athletic like J-Kidd was coming out. I haven’t seen that. He passes the ball well. The floor is wide open right now. Kidd has that vision though. I’m not going to deny him that. I need to see a little bit more. I am a big J-Kidd fan, even before when I saw him in Dallas. I saw J-Kidd when he first came in and seeing the things he did. I guess against tougher defense. We will see the kid can play and I’m not taking anything away from him, but he needs to show me more.”
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