Ricky Davis remembers Al Jefferson as a rookie, a teenager, a kid in 2004 who was considered the future of the Boston Celtics long before he did anything to earn that status. It was a status that Davis, on his fourth team soon headed to his fifth, never has known, certainly never has been handed.
Mark Blount might recall Jefferson as the high school guy whose minutes, spotty as they were, were going to come at his expense. That wasn't so bad perhaps, since Blount already had snookered the Celtics for his $38.5 million extension and could pace himself across the next six years as he saw fit. But Jefferson also was the one who, in the days after Davis and Blount got traded to Minnesota in January 2006, did or didn't say (Big Al still disputes the quotes in the Boston newspapers): ``Like Doc said [to us], the trade will clear out a lot of negative stuff in the locker room without Mark Blount and Marcus Banks, who didn't really want to be here.''
It is a different Al Jefferson who joins the Minnesota Timberwolves now. He's older, more established and more clearly the cornerstone of whatever the Wolves can put together in their rebuilding plan than he was in Boston. So however uneasy the reunion gets for Davis and Blount, however tempted they might be to pull what little locker-room rank they think they have as veterans who knew Jefferson when, they need to get over it right now.
Al Jefferson figures to be around a lot longer than Davis or Blount, whether the duration is measured in seasons or months.
"Nah, Rick always passed me the ball,'' Jefferson said at this week's news conference introducing the players acquired from Boston in the Wolves' sad but inevitable, blockbuster trade of Kevin Garnett. All five of them -- Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair -- sat shoulder-to-shoulder at the head table, and it's a good thing the two future first-round draft picks weren't represented by symbolic space, because owner Glen Taylor would have gotten bumped off the stage.
Minnesota has quantity, no doubt, with 16 guaranteed contracts two months before training camp opens. Quality? That will depend on Jefferson more than any of the others, and how quickly this becomes, in the best sense, his team.
"Rick was one of the greatest teammates that you could have, especially off the court," the 22-year-old power forward said. "When I was a rookie, he gave me the ball even when a lot of other guys didn't. I can't wait to show him how good I, uh, improved."
Of Blount, Jefferson said: "Me and Mark had a good relationship. He was the one I would always talk to. . . . We're good."
But they're different now, too. And in case Davis and Blount don't quite get how Jefferson has grown, they should take a look at some random posts from CelticsBlog.com about what Minnesota calls the Garnett trade:
BigalwillwinmoreringsthanKG said: [Garnett] is replacing a very likeable and albeit a popular player. . . . Big Al will make the C's pay for trading him.
Jefferson already is the best low-post scorer the Wolves ever have employed. For all of Garnett's talents, he wasn't even second; Isaiah Rider was. Gomes, a fellow former Celtic, calls him one of the five or six best in the league, right now. Minnesota coach Randy Wittman likens him to the Clippers' Elton Brand, a few years back on the learning curve.
"Elton didn't have the face-up game that he has now, and neither does [Jefferson]," Wittman said. "I don't know whether that's something that he'll be able to add, the 15-foot jump shot. But Elton Brand was a low-post player who had great quickness and strength, and [Jefferson] is even bigger. He can play different spots on the floor and gives you a chance to do a lot of different things, on paper."
On paper, fine. In the paint, better.
"It's very hard to play down there," said Kevin McHale. The Wolves' VP of basketball operations, no matter how raggedy his transcript as a team builder, holds a Ph.D. in post play. "That's why no one wants to do it. Everyone wants to face up and look at the guy and beat 'em. When your back's to the guy, you've got to feel him and shake him and move him and rock him and do stuff, so it's all feel.
"You take guys who don't have that feel, you work with them and they never get better. Al knows how to play down there. Al does stuff instinctively that I did, that Hakeem Olajuwon did. Then you add footwork and different things to it."
Like release point. The 6-foot-10 Jefferson attacks the rim from assorted angles, mixing up his looks in a league filled with guys as big as him. "Danny [Ainge, Celtics GM] was laughing. He said Al will do what I used to do -- he'll go left and then shoot it righthanded," McHale said. "I said, 'Why shoot it lefthanded if you don't have to?' "
makaveli said: say it aint so . . . please I wouldn't trade big al straight up 4 garnett
All the pressure, at this point, is in Boston.
There is no pressure in Minnesota anymore. Not to win, not to spend in free agency, certainly not to satisfy the national media's obsession by trading Garnett. That's done.
There's no pressure on Taylor, the owner whose team was going to struggle to sell tickets with or without Garnett's $22 million salary on its payroll.
There's no pressure on McHale, who might walk away in a matter of weeks -- that's one rumor, anyway -- but could stick around for another three years milking this patience-and-potential angle. If this one fails, heck, he can trade for more Celtics.
There's no pressure on Wittman, who has a three-year contract as consolation for not having Garnett in what likely will be his final NBA head coaching stint.
There's no pressure on Green or Gomes or Telfair or Ratliff because none of them was the key guy in this deal for Minnesota. And there really isn't that much pressure on Jefferson, either, even though he plays Garnett's spot and can come closest to the Big Ticket's numbers.
"There's not one guy who's going to carry this team," Wittman said. "But we don't need that one guy right now."
Of course they don't. They're rebuilding.
TNCeltic said: The saddest part about losing Jefferson is that he wanted to be a Celtic. This whole thing just stinks.
Patience and potential are two-way streets. So are assessment and evaluation.
While the Wolves and their fans are checking out Jefferson and his teammates from Boston, they'll be getting checked out in return.
In a sense, the Timberwolves are right back where they were a decade ago, faced with coughing up a big contract to a young, still developing power forward because, well, for credibility's sake as much as basketball's, they dare not lose him.
Jefferson will be paid slightly more than $2.48 million this season, which ranks him 10th on the Minnesota roster (not including bought-out Troy Hudson and Eddie Griffin). Jefferson and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, already have started preliminary talks about an extension; otherwise, he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. And if the numbers figured to start at $10 million a year when Jefferson was Celtics property, they might bump a little higher now that he has been traded, as the most valued piece, for a guy making $22 million.
Nice a guy as he is, and as eager to boost his game another notch, Big Al wants to get paid, too.
"I'd love to lock in and settle in, and just know I'm going to be here. We'll see when that happens," said Jefferson, who learned in a disappointing second season how hard he needed to work to prepare for his third. Then he averaged 16 and 11.
"I'm a big believer in, you take care of your game, the game's always going to take care of you. I don't think it's going to be no different now, no problem, no pressure, no nothing. Take care of your game, do what you have to do."
mobanners said: Dear Big AJ: You will be missed. I've no doubt you'll be tearing up the league for many years -- and be universally regarded as a class act to boot. Best of luck man, you will always be loved in Boston.
A more pressing question is how long he'll stick around to be loved in Minnesota.