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 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New Jersey Nets created salary room for a potential run at major free agents in 2010 and drafted a center Thursday, trading Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee just hours before selecting Stanford's Brook Lopez with the 10th pick in the NBA draft.
While the trade of their No. 2 career scorer to the Bucks for forward Yi Jianlian and forward Bobby Simmons caught many off guard, the Nets were just as surprised to find Lopez available. He gives them a desperately needed tough inside presence.
The trade, though, was the big news. It was the Nets' second major deal this year, coming just four months after they dealt perennial All-Star guard Jason Kidd to Dallas for young point guard Devin Harris and the Mavericks' first-round draft pick - No. 21 overall - to New Jersey. The Nets used the Mavs pick to take California forward Ryan Anderson.
Jefferson had about $42 million left on the final three years of his contract.
Yi, a 7-footer who was the No. 6 pick overall in the draft last year, averaged 8.6 points and 5.2 points last season, while Simmons, who averaged 7.6 points in his sixth season, only has two years left on his contact.
Looking forward, the Nets will have less than $30 million committed to salary in 2009-10 and that should give them money to spend in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all will have the chance to test the free-agent market.
Lopez will be an exciting addition. He averaged 19.3 points and 8.2 rebounds playing in the Pac-10. The 7-foot, 260-pounder missed the first nine games of the season while getting academically eligible.
``They really picked up a steal at No. 10,'' said Lopez's twin brother, Robin, who was drafted by Phoenix later in the first round.
The immediate future is a little uncertain for New Jersey, which won only 34 games this past season and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
The big three has been reduced to Vince Carter. Harris has the potential to be an excellent point guard, but the rest of coach Lawrence Frank's team is going to be young, especially if unrestricted free agents Bostjan Nachbar and DeSagana Diop are not re-signed.
Forwards Sean Williams and Yi will be entering their second seasons, while guard Marcus Williams and Josh Boone will be entering their third seasons.
Nets president Rod Thorn is high on Yi.
``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,'' Thorn said. ``We feel strongly he's going to be a real good player for us.''
The Nets also hope Yi, who will play for China in the Olympics, will help draw fans from the large Asian population in the New York metropolitan area.
Yi started 49 games last season. He missed the final eight games of the regular season with a sprained left knee.
Jefferson, 28, helped the Nets reach the NBA Finals in 2002 and '03. He averaged 22.6 points last season and left the franchise second only to Buck Williams in scoring.
``Richard has been a special player here,'' Thorn said.

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