- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Prior to 2001-02, the Nets were disrespected, thought of as a joke of an NBA franchise.
"They weren't that good. They sucked," former Nets player Richard Jefferson, now with San Antonio, told ESPNNewYork.com prior to the Nets-Spurs game at Prudential Center on Saturday night.
"I won more games  in college [my senior year] than they did the year before I got here ."
Noren Trotman/Getty Images
May 24, 2003: Richard Jefferson hoists the Nets' Eastern Conference championship trophy at Continental Airlines Arena.
That changed quickly. Nets GM Rod Thorn swung a draft-night deal to acquire Jefferson on June 27, 2001, and the following day he acquired arguably the greatest player in franchise history, Jason Kidd.
"I just remember when I got here the lack of respect that the organization had on the court, and how in a short amount of time we kind of changed that," Jefferson said. "Even now the banners that are hanging up [in New Jersey] are from the time that I was playing with great players like Jason, Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles, so I have a lot of fond memories."
"We had a good group of guys. Even Jason hadn't had that type of success in his career, so he was all in. We were playing for each other, making the extra pass, defending. We just rode that wave and it worked out for us."
The Nets made the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons, losing to the Lakers in 2002 and the Spurs in 2003. They advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2003-04, falling to the eventual NBA champion Pistons. Jefferson figured they'd make it back and have a chance to win it all. They didn't.
"The guys that I had some good fortune to play with, we won some games, but we weren't able to get the championship," Jefferson said. "I think we were broken up a little early, but at the end of the day just the memories and the people that I had the ability to play with [are what will stay with me]."
Martin got a max contract from the Nuggets, and the Nets didn't want to match it, so they dealt Martin to Denver in a sign-and-trade for three first-round picks. It was the beginning of the end. Eventually, Kidd and Jefferson were traded, too.
"They made an executive decision to change the direction of the franchise," Jefferson said, "and that's the way it goes."
The Nets are bound for Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2012-13, so Saturday night marked Jefferson's final game in New Jersey.
"I had a lot of fond memories here," Jefferson said. "You try to enjoy the experience, and you try not to get too nostalgic until after the game."
Jefferson understands why the Nets are moving on.
"It's a business situation. It's no different than me being traded to another team," he said. "It's a business situation and you have to approach it as such. New arenas, it happens a lot in this league and it happens a lot in sports in general. I wouldn't take it personally."
Jefferson, 31, said he respects the die-hard fans who have stayed loyal to the Nets both in good times and bad. He said he'll miss the great people involved with the franchise the most.
Jefferson said his Spurs teammates sometimes joke with him about losing to them in the 2003 NBA Finals
"Everyone once in awhile they give me a reminder of that, and that banner's hanging up in [our] building," Jefferson said.
10dKevin Pelton and Chad Ford