Michael Brandy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Al Jefferson can't help it.
He simply cannot mask his giddiness over the start.
The beginning, that is, of a new NBA season — tonight, at Denver, against the same Nuggets team the Jazz eliminated from the first round of last season's playoffs.
The first official outing in the third chapter of his professional life, one he hopes holds more ups than the plentiful downs of the other two.
The launch, really, to a new Jazz basketball era — the first in six seasons without Carlos Boozer in Utah.
"I was super-excited for training camp," said Jefferson, whom the Jazz acquired in a July trade with Minnesota shortly after two-time All-Star Boozer left for Chicago via free agency. "So just imagine how I am for (tonight).
"Yeah, I'm real excited. I'm ready to get going. It's something special here, man. You know, this team — it's a great team. It's real deep. We've got … guys coming off the bench who are just as good as the starters, in my opinion. I think it's gonna be really special."
Just how extraordinary depends in large part on how well Jefferson clicks with point guard Deron Williams, adapts to the Jazz system and acclimates himself to Utah.
So far, so good.
Jefferson averaged a team-high 14.5 points while playing in all eight preseason games.
More importantly, he's learned how a big man with a penchant for low-post play can thrive in a traditionally pick-and-roll based offense.
"Honestly, I think I'm 100 percent comfortable," said Jefferson, who early in the exhibition season had a hard time with certain halfcourt-set reads. "I mean, the things I'm struggling on now is the new plays they put in.
"We put in new plays every day," he added prior to practice Tuesday. "What we've been working on from training camp to now — I'm comfortable. Me and D-Will (Williams) have been watching film on him and Carlos Boozer's pick-and-rolls from last year. I'm understanding it a lot better."
Even if Jefferson doesn't get everything right away, Jerry Sloan sounds willing to wait.
"He's done well," the Jazz coach said Tuesday. "He's worked hard.
"Yeah, he's gonna some mistakes," Sloan added. "We'll all make some mistakes trying to recognize what we're doing and what the other team's doing to us. That's the biggest thing — is how we react to what they're doing. Sometimes that takes a little bit longer."
As for his new home, it didn't take long at all for the native Mississippian to wrap himself around the Wasatch Front.
"I don't like it. I love it, man. I love Utah, man," Jefferson said. "It's a wonderful place. People here (are) very nice, very friendly, very supportive of the Jazz.
"My teammates are wonderful; the coaching staff is good to me. So, I mean, I couldn't have picked a better place."
Not to be picky, but it actually was Utah that chose Jefferson.
Regardless, he and Jazz fans have quickly warmed to each other.
"They're really excited to get me, and I'm not going to let them down," Jefferson said. "I'm going to go out there and play hard every night, and do what I can to win games."
With just one playoff appearance after three years in Boston and three years in Minnesota — seven games as a Celtics rookie in 2005 — Jefferson hasn't enjoyed winning nearly enough for his liking.
But that, he senses, is about to change.
"I've been in this game six years. I've only tasted that playoff one time," the 25-year-old said. "Going home in April is not fun.
"It might have been fun my rookie year, but it's not fun to go home in April now and see all those great players playing in the playoffs, because that's where legends are born — in the playoffs. I want to be a part of that. I want to taste it."
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