The championship era is completely over for the Nets - unless they can begin a new one next season.
The Nets on Thursday sent Richard Jefferson - the last remaining link to the Nets' two Finals teams earlier this decade - to Milwaukee in exchange for 7-foot Chinese center Yi Jianlian, the sixth overall pick in last year's draft.
The Nets also acquired Bobby Simmons, a 6-6 forward who has played five seasons with three different teams.
“We feel that Yi can be a very special player,” said Nets president Rod Thorn. “He is a 20-year old seven footer who shoots the ball extremely well, and he is an excellent addition to our frontcourt. Bobby Simmons is a veteran NBA player who has averaged 10 points for his career, and should be a rotation player for us.
“I want to thank Richard for his contributions to the Nets over the past seven years. He was a member of Nets teams that went to two NBA Finals, won two Eastern Conference championships and four Atlantic Division titles, and leaves as the Nets' second all-time leading scorer in franchise history. He always conducted himself in a professional manner, and we wish him only the best for the remainder of his career.”
The deal not only gives the Nets one of the most promising young big men in the league, but also significant financial flexibility in the future. Jefferson is owed approximately $42 million over the next three years. Simmons has two seasons left on his contract, worth just more than $20 million, while Jianlian has just one more season of guaranteed money coming to him - $2.9 million next season.
Jefferson has been a Net since 2001, the same year Jason Kidd came to New Jersey in a trade with Phoenix. The two helped lead the Nets out of oblivion and into the Finals two years in a row. However, after Kidd was traded to the Mavericks last February, the Nets missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Jefferson, 28, is considered one of the better small forwards in the league and is coming off his best season ever, averaging a career-best 22.6 points last season and playing in every game. But the Nets were determined to trade him, partly due to his hefty salary but also because he's considered a high-maintenance player.
Jefferson is also facing assault charges stemming from a barroom brawl he was involved in in Minneapolis season, but team sources have said that issue had nothing to do with their desire to trade him.
Jianlian averaged 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in 66 games as a rookie.
The Nets have the No. 10 pick in Thursday night's draft but are rumored to be trying to move up to No. 5, perhaps to take 19-year-old Italian forward Danilo Gallinari, who could be Jefferson's heir apparent.