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Utah Jazz Player Previews: Al Jefferson

Who Is This Guy?

Big Al is just trying to settle down and find a place he can call home on the court. He was moved as the key part of the package that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. After having little team success in Minnesota, he was once again sent packing to Utah to try and fill the void left by Carlos Boozer and in part to keep Deron Williams happy. That didn't go so well. While nothing is imminent, it would appear that Al is on his way out of Utah when you consider what Utah has spent in order to bring in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.

Jefferson begins his 8th season in the best shape of his career after making the P3 facility his home for the past six months. As I mentioned in yesterday's Downbeat, Al has plenty to prove this season. As far as how those workouts have helped, trainer Mark McKown had this to say about Jefferson,

"I will go on the record right now in front of God and everybody. He is the most explosive, the most athletic overall, the strongest and most stable from foot to head than he's ever been, and with the lowest body fat ever.

"If he doesn't have his best season ever ... I will be shocked."

If the Jazz are to have playoff aspirations, a lot of that will depend on Jefferson's play. Can Al take things to the next level or have we seen everything that he can do already? Granted, what he can do already isn't anything to scoff at. He's a workman that will still give you 20 & 10 most nights but he hasn't been dominant. Most nights I came away a bit shocked that he had put up the numbers that he had. It's a quiet 20 & 10 to be sure. But few nights did I feel that he dominated. It's kind of bizarre.

Perhaps though he finally has that extra motivation to play better help defense, to pass out of double-teams more, and become the leader that most thought he would be. Maybe he sees the young group of guys coming up and has decided that he's not going to be traded again while other guys take his place. Hopefully that adds up to a big year this season.

How Does He Fit?

Much like Paul Millsap, it is really hard to see Al Jefferson playing for the Jazz after 2013. Again, it has less to do with Al the basketball player and more with the situation the Jazz are in. Al will be 28 years old when his contract ends and it's hard to imagine that he will look for anything less than one more big deal. He'll sign a 3 or 4 year deal in the $10-12 million range and the Jazz just simply can't afford to pay Al that money past the next two seasons, unless they want to not afford one of their young players, or unless Al Jefferson becomes a top 30 or so player this year and learns to affect the game positively on both sides of the floor.. The Jazz will have to pay large raises to Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward during the 2014-15 season and Burks and Kanter will come due the next season, so keeping other big contracts off the payroll will be imperative, unless they are franchise players.

Al is going to have to live with trade rumors for the next two seasons and for good reason, because guys who can put up 20 points and 10 rebounds a game will always create buzz and because his short contract will be desirable to other teams, especially next year. Teams will be interested in trading for Jefferson next season when he has a $15 million expiring contract and is still contributing. If I had to bet on it, I would guess that Jefferson plays out his contract and moves on to another team in free agency. But trust me, you will hear some majorly juicy trade rumors involving big Al starting next June. Maybe even sooner. In fact, I'll start one right now. An Al Jefferson for Andre Iguodala trade is being discussed. Enjoy, Jazz fans.


Our Hopes, Dreams, and Deepest Fears

The narrative for Al Jefferson is simple. To date he has been a decent player given roles usually reserved for stars. He's been a statistical chameleon: a 20-10 guy who actually isn't a great scorer or rebounder. A guy who gets a decent number of blocks and steals but is actually a lousy defender. A guy who supposedly commands double-teams, but seems unable to pass out to the teammates left open.

We all know the excuses at this point.

This year, our hope as that we can stop reciting the excuses. That he'll score more efficiently, that he'll be better on defense, that he'll box out, that he'll learn to pass out of the post. We hope that he uses his footwork to get closer to the basket and create better shots.

We hope he can be a guy actually worth a near-max contract.

And our fear is that he won't change-that after eight years, guys are pretty much who they are. But our biggest fear is even greater than that. It's that, even if his play doesn't warrant it, he'll still demand the most shots, the most minutes, the biggest role. And I don't mean demand in the Boozer, I'm the main scorer regardless kind of way. I mean demand, as in everybody still gives him the biggest role out of habit. That Favors or Kanter don't have to be equally good or 1% better to take his spot-they have to be 500% better before anyone sees it.

The most important thing, though, is that we don't just want the good narrative for us. We honestly want it for Al. He's a great guy. He works hard. He sweats hard. He's a good guy in the locker room. Of all the guys in the world, isn't he about last on the list you want brandedPerpetual Loser.

There's a third option, of course. It's that Al and the coaches understand his limitations and that he transitions into a supporting role, a secondary role. That Favors or Hayward-or whoever-does have it in them to be the star, and Al cheerfully slides over, working the boards, contributing what he can, and fill the role he was, perhaps, always meant to fill: a decent player who you like to have on your team.

-Jon Midget, aka Yucca

Why Do We Care?

I was against the trade for Al when the news first broke, but he quickly won me over during his introductory press conference. Upon his arrival in Utah, a very sweaty Al <strike>damn near flooded the Great Salt Lake</strike> said that he felt the basketball gods were smiling on him because he was coming to a team with 1) Jerry Sloan; 2) Deron Williams; 3) passionate fans.

1 is gone. 2 is gone. As for 3, a good percentage of 3 feels that he is not a good fit for the team and believes he should be traded. [Please, for the love of all that's holy, no one comment on this part.]

With all that turmoil going on last year, not to mention having BTS constantly in his face all the time, he played 82 games for the first time of his career and averaged career highs in many stat categories.

All that didn't stop him from *literally* working his ass off this off-season. From June until the day the lockout ended, Al was working out 4 hours a day in Santa Barbara.

I don't know which direction the Jazz are going in and I don't know where Al's future lies, but I loved this quote from him on Media Day: "I've been the guy with the good numbers on the bad team all my career, and for once I want to be the guy with the OK numbers or good numbers with a winning team." Lastly, 1) "Buh-tawks" and 2)