SALT LAKE CITY — Bye, bye, Big Al.
... Though his defense was often a sore spot for the Jazz and fans, Al Jefferson led the team in scoring during his three-year stay. The gregarious 6-foot-10 big man was beloved by teammates and the coaching staff for the way he got along with everybody in the locker room and on the court.
Jefferson, traded to Utah before the 2010-11 season, also had a soft spot in his heart for Jazz fans.
“I love the city of Salt Lake. It’s a great place,” Jefferson said the day after the Jazz’s season ended in April. “I love to stay out of trouble, focus on your game. The fans, the people here, everybody here, it’s like a big happy family. I love it.”
... Jazz fans, aside from taking barbs at his defense, will likely remember Jefferson for his offensive consistency, his relationships with guys like Paul Millsap and Mississippi pal Mo Williams, funny stories about his 10-foot-by-12-foot bed and his affectionate personality.
Big Al said he’d remember the way his team didn’t stop fighting down the stretch before missing out on the playoffs by finishing two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the deep Western Conference.
“It just would have been so easy to fold up and give up on the season. We didn’t,” said Jefferson, who earned player of the week honors the last week of March. “We fought all the way to the end, all the way to the last game of the season. Even though we didn’t make the playoffs, I don’t think anybody here (in the locker room) should have a reason to put their head down because we did our best — from the coaching staff all the way to the trainers.”
Jody Genessy, Deseret News
Acquired in 2010 as the next link in a chain of quality big men that included Karl Malone and Carlos Boozer, Jefferson’s run in Salt Lake City was marked by great unrest – the departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams – as well as hope, thanks to the arrivals of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
In the end, however, relentless liabilities on defense, a high price tag and the emergence of the very players he so ably mentored spelled the end for Jefferson.
... The Prentiss, Miss., native was the mayor of the Jazz locker room, mentoring younger players, notably Kanter. The player he affectionately called “Big Turk” began emulating his moves; some of them, Jefferson said, the young center did better than he.
All along, Jefferson dismissed the notion that he was grooming his own replacement.
“That’s the way you looking at it,” he once told a reporter. “I’m looking at it as helping another young fella out, improve his game. Hopefully when he becomes a vet, he’ll do the same with another young guy. ... Somebody did it for me. Want him to do it with somebody else.”
Bill Oram, The Salt Lake Tribune