I’m going to miss Richard Jefferson.
Some people may find that hard to believe because we went at each other sometimes, but I did like Richard. You could talk to him about anything and he had an opinion about everything.
He didn’t always agree with your opinion – with me never. Or your question – with me three out of four times he didn't. Or didn’t always like what you wrote – myself and other writers had to remind him that we don’t put the headlines on the stories. But it made for interesting conversations and interviews and chats when the tape recorders are off.
And he ended every group interview, every one of them win or lose, with these two words: “Go Nets.” Now he’ll be saying, “Go Bucks.”
The Bucks introduced Jefferson at a press conference in Milwaukee today and after listening to the 20-plus minute audio - his first public commenst since the trade - I can say I am going to miss him. The guy was candid, not to mention a really good player, who did a lot for this franchise and remains one of its most popular players.
He said he didn’t want to leave and he was upset at first about the trade, but then realized he was going to a better situation than he was leaving. I thought ouch, but also realized he’s right. The Bucks have a better chance at competing for the playoffs this season than the Nets, which Jefferson also said.
As much as we liked to disagree, I can't argue with anything he said today. Here are some snippets of the Jefferson press conference and I thank the Milwaukee Bucks’ PR Staff and the Journal-Sentinel for this:
Jefferson on how he felt after being traded:
“I took a long time to mull it over. It was an emotional thing for me only because I wanted to be a Net my entire career. Good and bad, we had good stretches and bad stretches. But I wanted to be a Net. When this happened I was upset. Even though we were going through bad times, I’m still committed to this.
“After calming down and evaluating and looking at the opportunity here and the opportunity to get back into the playoffs, which I really don’t think the Nets are going to be headed to the next couple of years. And I think they’ve kind of voiced that with some of the moves they’ve made.”
On his defense:
“It’s an area in which I need to improve. The last few years, people have criticized my defense a little bit. I’m still a person that believes in it. I understand that every good team I’ve ever been on we’ve had good defense. It’s an area because my role expanding and the amount of minutes I play and the amount of scoring I’ve been asked to do it’s kind of gone down. It kind of takes a little bit of a hit to your ego when people talk about you’re not as good defensively because that’s something I take pride in. It’s something I look forward to improving on and also having an impact. That’s probably going to be my focus now. With a guy like Michael Redd and as much balance we have across the board I don’t think there’s as much of a need for me to score 25 points. If you can go and stop their best player and give us 18, 19, 20 then that’s where I plan to be.”
On what upset him about traded:
“It wasn’t about Milwaukee. I could have been traded to Boston. I could have been traded to L.A. There’s not a place I could have been traded that I would have been happy. I’m one of the few guys that can honestly say I was a part of something in kind of starting a franchise and getting it going with Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin and all those guys. It wasn’t about a city. It was more about that feeling of rejection. The people that traded for you on draft day, that you had so much success [with]. They went from seeing me not be able to hit a shot outside of 15 feet to being one of the top 10 scorers in the league. Those people are like my family there. I lived there for seven seasons. They always will be. I love New York. I love New Jersey. The fans there have been amazing. I was there when we were going to the Finals and the Finals games weren’t sold out. I’ve been through a lot of stuff there. It wasn’t about the city. I was more about the trade than anything."
Excited about starting new with a new coach and GM:
“You have to look at it as an opportunity. Michael Redd is very, very talented. I look forward to a new situation. I know the situation I was leaving is not the best one mainly because of the past season we had and the seasons they’re looking at the next couple of ones. This is obviously a great situation. I don’t even know if I would have wanted to be in New Jersey, given what they’re going to be doing up to 2010 and the move to Brooklyn. I don’t know if that’s a situation that any player really would want to be in knowing there’s going to be that transition stage. I already did it once when they got rid of Kenyon Martin and we really, really struggled that year. And they kind of started to pick it up again with the trade for Vince. I look at everything as an opportunity and this is a great one.”
On Kidd, Carter and RJ being no more:
“We had some success with that threesome. But once we lost Kenyon Martin things were never the same. Vince is an amazing player. We won a division. We did some great things. Kenyon was someone we spent the next four years trying to replace and they’re still trying to replace him. They’ve drafted Brook Lopez, Josh Boone, Sean Williams, Nenad Krstic. They’ve drafted four-men consecutively trying to replace him. Once we lost Kerry Kittles that same year we never found another person to run the wing with me. Me and Jason were the fastbreak after having a team that had four fastbreak guys. We never really recovered from that. Did we still work to become a good team? Yes, we were a solid team. But I still stand by that that was a tough stretch for us.”
On Scott Skiles liking him:
“It’s awesome. I’ve heard multiple times from different people the past few years about how Scott Skiles tried to get me in Chicago. That gives me a little bit of a comfort knowing that the coach wanted me here. He’s going to work with me. I’m far from a perfect player. I made solid gains in my game last season. It’s only from hard work. I’ve got to work just as hard to try and make the same gains this year. Sometimes to get out of that comfort zone or that bubble that you’ve been in to go to a new place and to get a new outlook or you get somebody that’s pushing you again, and it’s more pushing instead of nagging – and that’s not a knock against anybody I played for - and hearing a different voice at times can help motivate you.”
(I sensed a shot in there against Lawrence Frank…. This is some of the stuff Jefferson didn’t like. When we took his quotes and pointed out who he was digging).
Jefferson also revealed that he spoke to Rod Thorn before the draft and the Nets were high on Joe Alexander, who the Bucks took. But we all knew that. Jefferson also said he and Michael Redd complement each other better than he and Carter did. You can’t argue with that either.
I can tell you this: many in the organization loved him but some told me he got too fixated with wanting to be an All-Star and wasn't as concerned with rebounding or defending like he was earlier in his career. I've also been told he was jealous of Carter especially but not exclusively.
It was kind of like Shawn Marion in Phoenix, who got tired of being No. 3 behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Jefferson always was no. 3 after Kidd and Kenyon or Kidd and Vince. But he wanted more.
Now he's going to be No. 2 in Milwaukee, but if he goes back to being the selfless player he was earlier in his career he could be recognized as an All-Star, especially if the Bucks make the playoffs.
All in all, though, Jefferson was a very good player, who played hurt and performed well in the postseason. He was also a guy who liked to give everyone a hard time and didn't always like it when he got it in return.
There was a conversation at the end of the season inside the visiting locker room in Boston when a couple of teammates told Jefferson he was the most sensitive guy on the team. He didn't like that very much.
But Jefferson was one of the best Nets and one of the few who wanted to end his career with the Nets. He will be missed, on the court, in the locker room and leaning over that trash can in the team's’ practice facility where he gave some of his best interviews before ending it with, “Go Nets.”