- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson dropped 25 pounds over the summer hoping to take pressure off his knees and ankles and extend his NBA career.

Jefferson, who played at 289 pounds last season, said he feels amazing.

“It’s like somebody took a 25-pound man off my back,” Jefferson said.

The 11-year NBA veteran said he took a page from the seemingly ageless Tim Duncan, who went about reshaping his body after the 2011 season by losing 20-plus pounds.

Jefferson missed 15 games last season and nine the year before due to injury.

A foot issue kept him from being 100 percent two years when the Hornets were swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

He felt like the extra weight was a big reason why.

Just 30, Jefferson has plenty of NBA wear and tear on his body. He’s played in 766 career games since coming into the league as a first-round draft pick out of high school in 2004.

“It was something I needed to do,” Jefferson said. “… I’m the oldest guy on the team. I still have a lot of years to play and I want to play at a high level.”

Teammates are impressed.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said he was “shocked” with how good Jefferson looked when he first saw him at workouts.

“He looks great,” noted point guard Kemba Walker. “It will definitely help him and will play to his advantage. You can see how hard he has worked in the offseason. Hopefully it takes a lot of pressure off his knees and ankles.”

It wasn’t always easy for the man they call “Big Al.”

Jefferson is a self-proclaimed Southern boy from Mississippi with a soft spot for fried chicken. He gave that up along with sugars and dairy products, while also working out three times a week.

“I had to turn my TV off because every time I turn around there was a Popeyes commercial on - and I love Popeyes,” Jefferson said with a laugh.

Walker can attest to how difficult that must have been.

“Listen, he always ate Popeyes last season on the plane and stuff,” said Walker said. “I always tried to tell him to stop eating it. He wouldn’t listen to me.”

Jefferson seems all in on eating right now.

He said he’s not stopping at his current weight and plans to lose more next summer.

For now, his goal to play all 82 games and help the Hornets get back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons as he enters his final year of his three-year, $41.5 million contract.

“He’s our best player and you need your best player out there,” Walker said.

Jefferson said at the team’s media day Friday he’s anxious for the season to begin, not just because of how good he feels.

He likes the moves the Hornets have made this offseason, adding guards Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb, forward Frank Kaminsky and center-forward Spencer Hawes.

He believes they will help take pressure off of him in the low post.

“I’m licking my chops this year,” Jefferson said, “because I know the floor is going to be more open this year - more than it has ever been in my career maybe.”

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