Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson arrives, and Raja Bell is on the way
New Jazz big man eager to finally play 'with a great team'
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There was quite a scene and a crowd at the Salt Lake International Airport when Al Jefferson arrived in town Wednesday night for a trip to make his trade to the Utah Jazz official.
Balloons, signs, thrilled friends and family — not to mention about a dozen media members with TV equipment, flashing cameras and recorders.
Not all of that fanfare was for the Jazz's new big man, of course. And, no, there wasn't a "Welcome, Elder Jefferson" sign, as some at the airport joked about — but he was clearly shocked by the large reception and 9 p.m. press conference.
The 25-year-old Jefferson even touched his face in seeming surprise and mouthed the words, "Oh, man" when he saw his greeting crew, which also included Jazz CEO Greg Miller.
"It's a wonderful feeling, man. It's a wonderful feeling," Jefferson said of being in Utah after spending three seasons apiece in Minnesota and Boston. "I'm glad to be here. I'm happy to (get) a chance to finally play with a great team, a playoff team."
The feeling from his new boss is definitely mutual.
Two days after approving the trade that sent Kosta Koufos, two future first-round picks and a $13 million trade exception to Minnesota in exchange for the potent scorer and rebounder, Miller said the big pick-up was "kind of fun."
The move came at a good time, too, seeing as Jazz fans were restless after seeing two key players — Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver — sign free-agent deals with the Chicago Bulls.
"It's neat to see how persistence can pay off," Miller said. "You know, a lot of people had us kind of sold down the river.
"As I often have an opportunity to remind people," the Jazz CEO said, "you can never count this franchise out. We just quietly go about doing what we do and make every effort we can to be competitive every day."
The Jazz followed their biggest offseason splash with another ripple Wednesday when they signed former Utah swingman Raja Bell to a three-year, $10 million deal to make up for losing Wesley Matthews to bonus-happy Portland.
"Oh, wow," Jefferson said when hearing the news that Bell would join him. "That's even better."
And that's saying something, considering the emotional high Jefferson is currently riding after being traded from a 15-win team in Minnesota to one of the Western Conference powers.
"It's a blessing. I'm just really excited to be here," said Jefferson, who must undergo a physical this morning before the trade is finalized.
"I'm glad they wanted to make the deal happen. I just can't say how excited I am to be here."
Two big reasons for his sudden state of perma-smile?
Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams.
"It's going to be an honor to play for him," Jefferson said of the Jazz's Hall of Fame coach. "I've always had respect for him. (He coached) Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer, two of the best power forwards in the game, and hopefully he can turn me into one of them."
Jefferson is optimistic he can became a tough tandem with Williams, whom he called "one of the best — if not the best point guard in the league."
Jefferson is also giddy to play in front of the EnergySolutions Arena fans — and actually get cheered on. Along that line, he admitted the T-Wolves' shocking 110-108 win in Utah last December — on a night when he piled up 23 points and 12 rebounds — was all the more special because of the atmosphere.
"The fans (are) wonderful here," Jefferson said. "It's hard as a visitor, it's hard to play here, but now I have the Jazz uniform on so it will be even better for me."
How good the Jazz can be, though, remains a question.
Even for Miller, who admitted the Lakers, Heat and Celtics are going to be awfully tough next season.
"I think it's a little early to be projecting where we might win. I think the best approach for us to take as a franchise is just to be competitive," Miller said. "We're going to go out and try to win every game we can, every night.
"We're not going to win every game. We're probably not going to win a championship," he added, "but that doesn't mean we're not going to give everything that we've got."
Jefferson is bringing some pretty high hopes with him.
"Hard work and dedication — I'm going to do whatever it takes," the 6-10 big man said. "I don't want this team to take no step backwards. I want to keep continuing to go forward. I'm going to dedicate everything I can to help this team get to the Finals and win it."
If that happens, he can expect even bigger crowds waiting for him — and not just at the airport.
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