Wednesday, center Al Jefferson became the only Charlotte Bobcat who will ever be named All-NBA.
Jefferson used the occasion to discuss his future with the now-Charlotte Hornets.
“When we stay on the same page and do things right at the defensive end, we can be a great team. We lost a lot of games last year I think we should have won,” Jefferson said after the NBA announced he was third-team all-league.
“We can get better. You can’t be satisfied.”
It took Jefferson 10 seasons to be named All-NBA, finishing at center behind Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard. He has yet to be voted into the All-Star Game, though that figures to change next winter based on his productivity this past season. He averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds and shot 51 percent from the field.
Jefferson signing with the Bobcats last July, combined with the hiring of coach Steve Clifford, changed this team’s fortunes. The Bobcats went 28-120 the two seasons prior to their arrival. This season the Bobcats went 43-39, reaching the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s first 10 seasons.
While the Bobcats were generous with their contract offer (over $13 million per season), Jefferson took a leap of faith in signing with a team that had no history of success.
“When I signed here, I had a feeling we’d fit into coach’s system,” Jefferson said at a news conference. “I was dedicated to improving myself at the defensive end. We’ve come a long way.
“For me, it’s important I’m not happy with just what I have done. In my meeting (with the front office after the season) I told them I don’t want to go backward.”
To that point, Jefferson says he’s begun doing this offseason what point guard Kemba Walker did with him a year ago: recruiting players to consider the Hornets’ pitch once free agency begins in July.
Long before the Bobcats could meet with Jefferson, Walker was lobbying him to sign in Charlotte. The two share the same agent, Jeff Schwartz, and Walker laid the groundwork last spring for Jefferson to visit Charlotte.
When Jefferson was asked Wednesday if he’s open to a similar role, Jefferson suggested he already has accepted it.
“I had guys last year come to me and say they could see themselves (signing) here,” Jefferson said. “I have guys calling me about how the coach is, (looking to) confirm how great coach Clifford is.”
Jefferson can opt out of his contract after next season and become an unrestricted free agent. But he certainly sent out all the signs he enjoys the players, the town and the Hornets franchise. The Hornets will have at least $13 million in salary-cap space in July to facilitate trades or free-agent signings to upgrade the roster.
Jefferson said he left his post-season meeting with management confident the Hornets are committed to improvement.
“They made it very clear we’re all on the same page – to get a lot better,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said he was happy to see four or five of his teammates already working out at Time Warner Cable Arena on a regular basis. He had to take three weeks off after the season to rest the torn plantar fascia along his left foot.
Jefferson said he’s now pain-free and can start running on the treadmill this week. He could start some light basketball workouts next week.
Jefferson said attendance at these voluntary workouts is representative of the work culture Clifford has invoked.
“(Clifford) kind of reminds me of my grandmother (who) believed in tough love,” Jefferson said. “(He) believes in letting me know what I’m not doing but at the end of the day he’ll praise me …
“He has a way of motivating you, not just for you but the team and him, too.”
That ultimately led to the validation of being chosen All-NBA.
“I can sit here and say it doesn’t matter, but it does,” Jefferson said. “To get that kind of recognition at this time in my career, it means a lot.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell