COMMENTARY | Al Jefferson may be the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. Despite several years of posting impressive numbers, including two stellar 20/10 seasons with the T-Wolves, Big Al has never been invited to the NBA's big party at the All-Star Weekend.
Jefferson is a free agent this year, and his current salary of $15 million is far and away the highest on the Jazz's payroll - and a hefty bite out of a small-market team's cap room. Most NBA insiders believe his return to the Jazz is questionable for the coming season.
Big Al will be missed if he moves on, as seems likely. I have compiled a list of his top accomplishments as a tribute from an appreciative fan:
1. Jefferson Named Player of the Week in Both Conferences..
Jefferson has been named Player of the Week five times in his career, including four times in the Western Conference (two as a member of the Jazz), and once as the Eastern Conference POTW with the Celtics. Most recently, Big Al won the award for the week ending March 31, in the middle of Utah's push for the playoffs.
The official NBA website lists the dates of all five times Jefferson has achieved this honor. It is rare enough that a player achieves this honor multiple times. To have done it with three different teams in both conferences is certainly a feather in Jefferson's cap.
2. Jefferson Sets Timberwolves Franchise Record with 26 Rebounds.
On January 13, 2010, Jefferson grabbed 26 boards in a triple overtime loss to the Houston Rockets. Although Kevin Love has subsequently broken this record, it was a noteworthy achievement - primarily because of the footsteps in which Jefferson followed in Minnesota.
Jefferson was part of the deal that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics before the 2007-08 season. Accomplishing this feat to erase the name of a future, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer from the team record book provided hope for T-Wolves fans that they had a solid nucleus of young talent for their rebuilding process.
3. Jefferson Named a Member of Team USA.
In 2010, Jefferson received the honor of being selected for the national men's basketball team. This was exciting for Jazz fans, as Jefferson joined a short list of Jazz players including Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and original Dream Team members John Stockton and Karl Malone, as a possible U.S. Olympian.
When the 2012 Olympic team was announced, however, Big Al found himself in the familiar position of being on the outside looking in. Despite the team's notable lack of proven, skilled big men, Team USA selected the inexperienced Anthony Davis over Jefferson to round out the team.
4. Jefferson Ties a Career High with 40 Points During Homestretch of 2013 Playoff Push.
On April 12 this year, Jefferson played perhaps the finest game of his career. Trailing the Lakers and the Rockets in the standings for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Big Al loaded the team on his back and carried them to victory over his former team, Minnesota.
Tying a career-high with 40 points, Jefferson added 13 boards and 6 assists in a heroic effort that Jazz fans will not soon forget.
5. Jefferson's Comments Spark Controversy During 2011-12 Playoff Series with San Antonio.
It was a hard call to include this incident among Jefferson's career highlights, as many would be more inclined to characterize it as a low point. It's also difficult to ignore in any discussion of Jefferson's career to date, because it is probably the single incident that garnered the most attention for the Jazz big man in his career.
On May 5, 2012, after the Spurs had soundly beaten the Jazz to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round series, Jefferson candidly commented that San Antonio had a better team, stating, "I don't see nobody (sic) beating them."
The reaction to these comments was mixed. Some fans and experts opined that this was an indication that Jefferson had quit, already conceding the series to the #1 seed. Others said that he was simply being honest and was stating the obvious. Regardless, these comments provided fodder for the pundits on talk radio and television alike.
I personally believe that Jefferson's assessment of last year's team's chances was both accurate and ill-advised. I don't think he had given up. I've followed his career with Jazz, and I don't see any quit in the man. As evidenced by the first two items in this list, Jefferson played some of his best ball ever this year with the playoffs on the line.
Jefferson's career, however, has been a study in "close, but no cigar," and this is a fate that the Jazz have shared since his arrival in Utah. Jefferson has been good enough to be in the conversation for Olympic and All-Star appearances, but has always fallen just short. The Jazz have been good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but are not a legitimate title contender.
I don't know if we've seen the last of the big guy wearing #25 for the Jazz; I hope not. I also understand that a salary close to the price tag he commanded this year might be too steep for a small market team, such as Utah. Whether he re-signs with the Jazz or moves on to another team, I wish him the best and thank him for some memorable moments.
If I end up writing another article a few years down the road listing five career highlights for Big Al, I hope nothing I listed this time around makes the cut.
S.B. Jackson is a resident of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and a lifelong NBA fan, dating back to his devotion to the Cincinnati Royals. He is the author of one novel and several short stories he is currently compiling into a collection. His work has been published in The Columbus Dispatch, The Salt Lake City Tribune, and other newspapers.
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