It was tough to watch Al Jefferson last season. He was a bit tentative, a step slow and what was once a scowl of determination looked more and more like sulking. But it was understandable. He was trudging about on one knee, surrounded by new faces and learning a new system. The writing was on the wall and he knew he never had a chance.
There were flashes of brilliance in Jefferson’s first two Minnesota winters. In the age of the uber-athletic forward, Al was a throwback: an earthbound player with a skill set that aged gracefully. His intuitive footwork, soft hands and endless array of pump fakes established him as one of the league’s best postmen. He worked to extend his range, improved his passing and became even more dangerous. Of course he wasn’t without his faults; for such a fundamentally sound offensive force, he was a woefully inept defender and the aforementioned improvement in court vision was from absolute blindness to mere nearsightedness.
Make no mistake though, Al was much more than a bottom feeder hoarding stats and losses, in the eyes of many he was an All Star. Unfortunately, in the eyes of those who mattered he wasn’t a winner like David West. It was quite ironic. Kevin Garnett was an All Star the previous two seasons on teams that struggled to win 30 games. But that’s just the way things work: prominent veterans on losing teams and tertiary players on winning teams get the benefit of the doubt while the new guy gets the shaft.
He was so much more than the new guy. He was the new face of the franchise. He was the faint hope that a struggling team could recover from losing a Hall of Famer. He was the one who had to rally his teammates. He was the one left to face the media every night. He was a hard worker who made no excuses and believed in accountability, not lip service. He was the leader. He never had a chance.
In his first days on the job, David Kahn provided a refreshing dose of honesty that drew the respect of many Wolves fans. Al Jefferson wasn’t going to be the best player on a championship team, but he could be a dependable second option. Unfortunately, he’ll have to do so in Utah.
Questionable as the circumstances may be, I’m happy to see him go. Too often players aren’t given the time or conditions to develop. They’re treated as commodities instead of projects. Al suffered through some of Boston’s darkest days, only to be discarded in a deal for their salvation. He emerged as a legitimate force in Minnesota, hindered more by injury and instability than any defense. Now he finds himself in the steady and capable hands of Jerry Sloan, who will appreciate his no nonsense attitude, cater to his strengths and bang out those deficiencies.
Hopefully he’s found a home.
Hopefully we won’t regret it.