Al Jefferson has had a tough time severing his connections to the Timberwolves. When he is at home and the Utah Jazz are not scheduled to play, he dials up the satellite coordinates to watch his former team on TV.
Jefferson also admitted to talking with Kevin Love on a regular basis — most of the conversations coming after one of Love's spectacular rebounding nights. The former Wolves teammates chatted after Love's 31-point, 31-rebound game against New York and his career-high 43-point performance last week in Denver.
"Now that I'm out of his way, things have really opened up for him," Jefferson said of the NBA's leading rebounder. "He's been able to go out and do what he's supposed to do. He's showing he can be a double-double machine."
Jefferson said he has no bitter feelings about the trade in July that separated him and Love. In fact, Jefferson encouraged Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn to pursue a deal that would create a full-time opportunity for Love and free Jefferson from the Wolves' rebuilding plans after last season's 15-67 finish.
Not only did Kahn agree to Jefferson's wishes, he sent the six-year veteran to a playoff contender in the Western Conference, a team sitting atop the Northwest Division with a 20-9 record. It's one reason the man Wolves fans called "Big Al" has mixed emotions about his first return to Target Center for tonight's game against the struggling Wolves (6-23).
"I really wanted to be here," Jefferson said of his three-year run with the Wolves after arriving in the Twin Cities on Tuesday. "It was my goal to help the team get back to the playoffs, but it got a lot harder than I thought it would be. We never had the right group of guys here."
Jefferson, the Wolves' leading scorer the past three seasons, was traded to Utah to help the Wolves become a more up-tempo team. Wolves coach Kurt Rambis never felt comfortable playing Jefferson and Love together for extended minutes. Rambis believed Love and Jefferson, a pair of 6-foot-10 power forwards with low-post scoring ability, clogged up the Wolves' offense and left the team's interior defense exposed to taller and more athletic players.
Jefferson said he understood the reasoning behind the trade.
"Me and Kahn knew that it would take the team another two or three years before it would contend for the playoffs," Jefferson said. "I thank God that he and I had a good enough relationship that he traded me to a good team."
Though some trades take time for results to surface, the Wolves and Jazz have enjoyed immediate impacts from the deal. Love has been one of the league's bright stories in the first two months of the season, and Jefferson has given the Jazz a low-post scoring presence since power forward Carlos Boozer left to sign with Chicago as a free agent. The Wolves also created salary cap space with the absence of Jefferson's $14 million salary this season.
"The flexibility we'll have with our cap in the offseason is a big thing for us," Kahn said. "We'll have the ability to make a major move. But we also realize that Kevin would not achieve what he's done this season if there was still a problem with minutes between he and Al."
Jefferson has started all 29 games for the Jazz and is averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds and shooting 46.9 percent from the floor. He is healthy after struggling last season with a knee injury and a sore Achilles' tendon. There's also peace of mind for Jefferson, who said last season was "probably the worst year of my life."
Jefferson's grandmother died in November and he was arrested for driving under the influence a few hours after the Wolves' home loss to Portland on Feb. 27.
"I'm so glad I got that DUI," Jefferson said. "It woke me up and let me know that I'm not untouchable. It changed me in a lot of ways. I'm real pleased with where I'm at in my life and how much I've grown up."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company