Al Jefferson isn’t upset with the Minnesota Timberwolves for trading him. Not at all. After winning just 15 games last season, he’s thankful to be moving to the Utah Jazz, whose playoff appearances are an annual rite of spring. Staying with the Timberwolves would have meant only more rebuilding.
“They have a nice group of guys, but will have a couple more losing seasons,” Jefferson said of the T’wolves. “Minneapolis is my home away from home. I respect the fans that have supported me through the good and the bad … but when I told people I played for Minnesota, some people didn’t even know they had a team. Everybody knows about Utah. Everyone knows the Utah Jazz.
“I go from being in a Toyota to a Bentley. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The Jazz acquired Jefferson from the Wolves in exchange for two first-round picks and center Kosta Koufos(notes). The move gave the Jazz a replacement for power forward Carlos Boozer(notes), who departed to the Chicago Bulls in free agency. The trade also sends Jefferson to a playoff team with an All-Star point guard in Deron Williams(notes).
The Wolves considered Jefferson a future All-Star and the center of their rebuilding efforts after acquiring him in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett(notes) to the Boston Celtics before the 2007-08 season. He initially didn’t disappoint, averaging 21.1 points and 11.1 rebounds in his first season. He looked even more dominant in his second season, averaging 23.1 points and 11 boards in 50 games before tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament. The knee injury required surgery, and it quickly became evident Jefferson’s days were numbered in Minnesota once David Kahn took over as general manager in the summer of 2009 – especially with another young power forward now on the roster in Kevin Love(notes).
Still recovering from the knee injury and trying to find his place in the triangle offense of new coach Kurt Rambis, Jefferson averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season. He’s now determined to reward the Jazz for showing faith in him.
“For all the guys trying to bounce back from injury, it’s going to take hard work, not just training camp,” Jefferson said. “I proved I’m tough enough because of this injury. Utah wouldn’t take the chance to trade for me if they didn’t think I was healthy.”
The Dallas Mavericks also showed interest in acquiring Jefferson, but Jefferson preferred the Jazz because he considers Williams “the best point guard in the game.” The two have talked regularly since the trade.
“The first thing [Williams] told me is he’s going to make me an All-Star,” Jefferson said. “It was music to my ears. That meant a lot. It’s a blessing. It means he is not done here. He’s an All-Star, the best point guard in the game, and I said that before I got here. I just need to have my hands ready.”
Boozer battled injuries during his stay with the Jazz, but was a consistent contributor when healthy, averaging 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds last season. Jefferson, however, says his knee is close to 100 percent and thinks he can deliver similar production. At 6-foot-10, he’s also bigger than Boozer, giving the Jazz a long frontline alongside 6-11 center Mehmet Okur(notes) and 6-9 small forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes).
Jefferson made clear he’s not trying to replace Boozer, just like he didn’t try to replace Garnett in Minnesota. But he does have his eye on chasing the legacy of the Jazz’s most famous forward: Karl Malone, who formed a devastating pick-and-roll combo with Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton. Neither Malone nor Stockton, however, ended their careers with a title.
“One reason I came to Utah is so me and Deron could grow old together and win a championship,” Jefferson said. “No disrespect [to Stockton and Malone] … I hope we are better and we win a championship. I hope so. I would love that.”