MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - In their quest to get more athletic, faster and financially nimble, the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking to move power forward Al Jefferson’s slow-it-down low-post game and chunky contract.
They found the right match in each other.
The Timberwolves agreed to send Jefferson to the Jazz for two future first-round draft picks and a traded player exception for salary-cap flexibility, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been officially announced.
Jefferson averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season for the Timberwolves in his first year back from a major knee injury in February 2009. But the Wolves have signed center Darko Milicic, agreed to terms with center Nikola Pekovic and traded for Michael Beasley to reshape a small front line into a bigger, and sleeker, unit.
Jefferson came to the Timberwolves in 2007 as the main cog in the blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. He averaged 23.1 points and 11 rebounds in 50 games the following season before he blew out his right knee in 2009.
Utah gained the exception in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Boozer to Chicago. Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor declined to comment when reached by phone.
The deal marks a complete and final break from the Kevin McHale-Kevin Garnett era in Minnesota. Garnett is the lone star the Timberwolves have ever had, spending 12 years in the Twin Cities and leading the Wolves to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
McHale, the former coach and GM, decided to cut ties with Garnett in 2007 and rebuild. He sent KG to Boston for Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two draft picks in a blockbuster deal that helped the Celtics form the bedrock of a team that has reached the NBA finals twice in the last three years, winning it all in 2008.
Jefferson was the last remaining player from that deal. McHale was fond of Jefferson’s footwork and wide array of low-post moves, the kind of old-school, back-to-the-basket game that worked so well for McHale as a Hall of Fame player in Boston.
The match looked promising at the beginning, with Jefferson signing a five-year, $65 million contract and averaging 21 points and 11.1 rebounds in his first season in Minnesota. He was pushing for the All-Star team in his second season, dominating offensively when he tore ligaments in his right knee in the final game before the break in New Orleans.
Now Jefferson’s comeback has been relocated to Utah.
The Jazz needed to make a move after losing Boozer (five years, $75 million) and Kyle Korver (three years, $15 million) to the Bulls, two defections that will make this season more challenging for Williams.
The Jazz orchestrated a sign-and-trade deal with the Bulls for Boozer in exchange for roughly $14 million in value in this trade exception, allowing them to swing a deal just like the one they agreed to with Minnesota. Jefferson has three years and $42 million left on his contract, but the exception allows the Jazz to take on his salary without exceeding the cap. The Wolves would be able to use the exception to acquire another player.
The Jazz will also send Minnesota the conditional first-round pick it got from Memphis in the Ronnie Brewer trade, plus another future first-rounder. Details were still being finalized.
For all of his skill on offense, Jefferson has been a liability on defense, and his game is tailor-made for the half-court while coach Kurt Rambis wants his team to run.
Timberwolves president David Kahn was up front with Jefferson from the beginning, telling him that they were considering trading him but also saying they would not do so unless they got an offer they liked.
“I told him I admired him for his professionalism,” Kahn said. “I hope it isn’t awkward. I told him we would do what’s best for him and best for us.”