Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: April 24, 1:28 PM ET
Chris Christie: No love lost for Nets
By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNNewYork.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Nets are playing their final game in New Jersey on Monday night and leaving for Brooklyn at the end of this season, but the governor of New Jersey isn't about to get all nostalgic over it.
"I'm not going to the Nets game (Monday night) and my message to the Nets is 'goodbye,' " Chris Christie said Monday, according to The Associated Press. "They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance."
Nets coach Avery Johnson was asked about Christie's comment prior to Monday night's game.
"Everybody has an opinion. We're moving on. And hopefully we'll move on and be successful in Brooklyn," Johnson said.
The Nets spent 35 years in New Jersey -- the last two in Newark -- but they'll be moving across the bridge to Brooklyn and the brand-new $1 billion Barclays Center at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
Christie said that if the Nets didn't want to stay in New Jersey, the state didn't want them. He said the team spent the last two seasons in one of the country's most vibrant cities and he sarcastically said they were leaving for Brooklyn.
"(The Prudential Center is) one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it's in one of the country's most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn?" Christie asked. "Good riddance, see you later. I think there'll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, 'This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different.' "
During their time in New Jersey, the Nets have compiled an NBA record of 1,186-1,634 (.421). They have reached the postseason 16 times and the Finals twice (2002-2003), losing both times.
"You don't want to stay, we don't want you," Christie said.
At halftime of the game, a 107-85 loss to Philadelphia, about a dozen former players were introduced to the sellout crowd along with former team owners, executives and the mother of Drazen Petrovic, the talented guard who was killed in an automobile crash in Germany in 1993 after the team lost in the playoffs.
They did a lot laughing and reminiscing in a news conference after the ceremony.
"It's sad being it's 35 years that the franchise was here in New Jersey and to really be a part of that and knowing that it is not going to be here anymore, it's a sad day just for the people here in New Jersey," said Derrick Coleman, the Syracuse forward who the Nets took with the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.
Coleman even responded to Christie's contentious remarks.
"He said good riddance to the Nets?" Coleman asked. "He must not like basketball. My time here was great for me."
Johnson understands that fans might be disappointed, but called the move to Brooklyn, "a new chapter in Nets basketball."
"It's one that's been coming for awhile," Johnson said. "We feel we have ownership that's going to spend all the necessary resources for us to become a perennial playoff team and have a chance one year to get back to the Finals. Give us a chance. We have a lot of ways to get you to Brooklyn."
Why should New Jersey fans stay with the team once they leave?
"Hopefully we'll continue to improve our roster," Johnson said, before naming off several players on the team. "Hopefully the ping-pong balls bounce our way and we'll get a top-3 pick (the Nets traded their 2012 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers but it's top-3 protected) so keep your fingers crossed. So hopefully with all of that and we'll be healthy enough to put a team on the floor that's an outstanding team."
Many of the players Johnson referred to -- point guard Deron Williams (opt out), small forward Gerald Wallace (opt out), power forward Kris Humphries (unrestricted), small forward Gerald Green (unrestricted) and center Brook Lopez (restricted) -- are likely to or are going to be free agents, so it's unknown who is going to be on the Nets next season.
Johnson did however say the Nets are "optimistic" that they'll be able to re-sign Williams.
The Nets had hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 coming into this season, but they've been decimated by injuries. Coming into Monday night's game, they've lost 238 manpower games to injury, illness and personal reasons, and started an NBA-high 24 different lineups. They've also been a terrible home team (9-23 home, 22-42 overall).
Johnson has coached the Nets the last two seasons. So what have they improved on?
"For us, our team didn't even know how to practice. Now there's a good spirit about practice," Johnson replied.
The Nets coach also pointed out improvements in "professionalism" and that they're "a better road team."
On Monday night, a sellout crowd will say goodbye to the Nets for one last time.
Several former players will be in attendance and will be honored as well. Tribute videos from former players and coaches will also be shown on the jumbotron.
"It's a great way to send us off and we appreciate everyone that's gonna come out and support us," Johnson said.
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.