By COLIN FLY
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE -- The New Jersey Nets decided to part ways with the second-leading scorer in franchise history, dealing Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee hours before the draft Thursday for forwards Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.
"We certainly gave up a good player, but to get a good player you have to give up a good player. With Yi, we feel his upside is very up," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "We feel strongly he's going to be a real good player for us."
No draft picks were swapped in the trade.
Milwaukee has been looking to rid itself of several bloated contracts and decided it was worth trading the rookie that former general manager Larry Harris selected with the No. 6 pick last year along with the rest of Simmons' contract.
But the Bucks had to add more salary to do it, taking on the rest of Jefferson's deal, three more years at more than $42 million.
Harris was let go in March, and new general manager John Hammond is looking to fill several spots as the team tumbled to a 26-56 finish. Jefferson provides veteran leadership to a team desperately seeking winners in the locker room.
"Richard Jefferson is a hardworking, proven, dynamic performer at the forward position," Hammond said. "He's an aggressive player with terrific credentials over his career. He's been a winner, having gone to the playoffs in six of his seven seasons, and we're excited to bring him to Milwaukee."
Jefferson, second in franchise scoring to Buck Williams, gets a chance to team with Michael Redd and is not a defensive liability. He's also a proven scorer, averaging 22.6 points per game last season.
The Nets get long-term cap relief after Simmons' contract comes off the books. Simmons has two years and a little more than $20 million left on his deal.
"It's virtually a wash," Thorn said. "Long term, yes, because Richard's contract is longer."
The dealing of the 28-year-old Jefferson marks an end of an era. The move continues the rebuilding of the franchise in the post-Jason Kidd era and puts New Jersey in position to be a major player in 2010 offseason, which is expected to include a bumper crop of free agents that could include LeBron James and others.
"Richard has been a special player here. He played hurt. He's a special player. We certainly like Richard a lot, because we signed him to a very nice contract once upon a time," Thorn said.
Thorn also acknowledged he wasn't sure what his new team would like without its veteran stalwarts. The Nets, who missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years by going 34-48, traded Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris and the Mavericks' first-round draft pick on Thursday.
"Right now, it's a work in progress," Thorn said.
One thing is for certain, the Nets get Yi, who could also develop into a powerful presence and finally gets to go to a major city with a large Chinese population with more marketing opportunities.
"My feeling is with Yi's upside it was something we had to look at. A 20-year old kid with his skill set, we feel he has a big future," Thorn said.
If he's indeed 20. Allegations have dogged Yi (EE') that he's up to three years older, and he flatly told the AP earlier this season that he didn't want to talk about it.
"I just feel like there's no point in talking about it too much," Yi said in December. "If you look at my passport, if you look at anything, it's got my birth date, so there's really nothing I can say more."
Yi, who will play for the China in the Olympics, also took his time signing with Milwaukee after being selected in last year's draft and wasn't swayed to join the Bucks until a contingent that included owner and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl traveled to China to complete the deal.
Yi made 49 starts and played in 66 games, averaging 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. He vied with Charlie Villanueva for playing time.
Simmons never lived up to a five-year, $47 million contract he signed in the offseason after being honored as the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2005. After a tough first year adjusting, he missed all the 2006-07 season with ankle and foot injuries and averaged just 7.6 points in 70 games.
"He's greatly appreciative of everything the Bucks have done for him. They gave him a terrific contract, a great opportunity. He's had some injuries, which have been really unfortunate," Simmons' agent, Mark Bartelstein, said. "In tough times, you need a fresh start to kind of change your luck."
The Bucks' projected starting lineup looks much clearer now with Mo Williams at the point, Michael Redd at shooting guard, Jefferson and Villanueva at forward and Andrew Bogut, the No. 1 pick in 2005, at center.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.