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Utah Jazz: Big Al says turnaround will take hard work

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 12:15 p.m. MDT

Al Jefferson led the Jazz with averages of 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Al Jefferson led the Jazz with averages of 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Al Jefferson didn't expect the wild ride he endured during his first season with the Utah Jazz.

After missing the playoffs for five straight seasons (two in Boston, three with Minnesota), the center's postseason future looked bright with an offseason trade to Utah. The Jazz — under head coach Jerry Sloan and all-star point guard Deron Williams — were pretty much playoff regulars, going each year since 2007.

Another trip looked promising after a 27-13 start. The journey, however, never reached its intended destination. Sloan's abrupt retirement and Williams' surprising trade to New Jersey derailed things.

The Jazz wound up going 12-30 down the stretch and spent Thursday morning cleaning out their lockers at Energy Solutions Arena.

"It was a rollercoaster ride, you know, a rollercoaster ride — a lot of ups and downs," Jefferson said. "A lot of things that happened to this team in one year, teams go through in three or four years. We went through it all in one year."

Jefferson saw it all. He was the only player on the team to play in all 82 games this season, providing him with unique insight.

"It's not really frustrating for me. Now that the season is over, I don't have (any) regrets or nothing," Jefferson said. "Everything that happened this season I feel like it happened for a reason and it's just going to make us better for next season."

Although disappointed he won't be in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, Jefferson noted that he feels good going into the offseason. He likes the pieces coming back and the draft picks the franchise has secured.

"I'm really excited about it. I just hope and pray I'm still a part of it," Jefferson said before clarifying his comments. "I'm just saying that's the only bad thing that could happen, if I won't be a part of it. I'm pretty sure I will be a part of it next year."

Jefferson led Utah with 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He logged 37 double-doubles, seventh most in the NBA.

The 6-foot-10 center has evolved into a team leader. He plans to join several of his teammates in working out together this summer in Salt Lake City and Santa Barbara, Calif.

"We're all on the same page and we've got that same mindset as far as getting better," Jefferson said after telling reporters he didn't think there were be a two- or three-year rebuilding process for the Jazz. In his opinion, the turnaround will be more automatic and as soon as possible.

Jefferson acknowledged, however, it'll take a lot of hard work and dedication. The big key to success, he added, is getting everyone's mind on defense.

Individually speaking, Jefferson noted there's a lot of room for improvement and he can always get better. He's determined to get in better shape and get his body trained for the postseason.

His goal? No excuses.

Jefferson is a bit of a perfectionist.

Playing in every game for just the second time in his career was important to him. He hopes it shows that he'll play night in and night out when healthy

"To finish the season and play in all 82 games and be able to start in all 82 games really means a lot to me," Jefferson said.

Another area of importance is getting Utah back into the playoffs. He noted that teammates like Paul Millsap are experiencing the pain of missing out on the postseason for the first time.

"It's not a good feeling. I've been going home in April for six years now," Jefferson said. "So it's not a feeling that guys want to get used to."

email: dirk@desnews.com

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