SALT LAKE CITY — Bye, bye, Big Al.
In yet another sign things are going to be drastically different in Utah in the future, center Al Jefferson is leaving the Jazz to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Jefferson has agreed to sign a three-year deal worth $41 million, according to ESPN.
Though his defense was often a sore spot for the Jazz and fans, Jefferson led the team in scoring during his three-year stay. The gregarious 6-foot-10 big man was beloved by teammates and the coaching staff for the way he got along with everybody in the locker room and on the court.
Jefferson, traded to Utah before the 2010-11 season, also had a soft spot in his heart for Jazz fans.
"I love the city of Salt Lake. It's a great place," Jefferson said the day after the Jazz's season ended in April. "I love to stay out of trouble, focus on your game. The fans, the people here, everybody here, it's like a big happy family. I love it."
Jefferson was in Utah during some wild times.
He quickly embraced the idea of playing alongside Deron Williams, and openly stated that D-Will would help him become an All-Star for the first time.
That never happened, of course.
In fact, Jefferson and Williams only played together for 53 games before the All-Star point guard was traded to New Jersey. Less than two weeks before that, Williams' disintegrating relationship with Jerry Sloan played a factor in the Hall of Fame coach unexpectedly resigning during that tumultuous season.
Though Utah went into a major tailspin, losing 20 of its final 28 games to miss out on the playoffs that year, Jefferson was proud about how the team ended on a two-game winning streak. The Jazz bounced back in 2011-12 to make the playoffs, giving Big Al his first taste of the postseason since his rookie year in Boston.
The 2012-13 Jazz, using a third different starting point guard in as many seasons, finished 43-39 but missed the playoffs for the second time in Jefferson's three years.
"No I did not think it would be two years that I would not make the playoffs out of three," Jefferson said. "But dealing with the situation when everything went down with coach Sloan leaving, Ty (Corbin) taking over, D-Will leaving, we had Devin (Harris) and now Mo (Williams). I felt like with the cards that we were dealt, we played them well. We played them very well."
This past season, the Jazz had to deal with a bizarre mixture of young and old players along with having seven rotation veterans in the final year of their contracts.
"Half of the team was young. Half of the team was veteran," Jefferson said. "We came in and mixed well together, so I'm proud of that."
Jefferson led the Jazz in scoring all three seasons, including his 17.8-point average from 2012-13. He also averaged 9.2 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal last year.
The 28-year-old didn't want to talk about his personal contract situation when he last visited with Utah media on locker clean-out day (April 18), but Jefferson was quite optimistic about the Jazz's future with the likes of his second-year buddy Enes Kanter (whom he fondly called "Big Turk"), Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Co.
Jefferson admitted he was curious to see what type of team the Jazz organization would put together in a likely rebuilding project.
"It' a great situation to be in if you're the Utah Jazz or you're a fan. I think that true fans would love that — to see how their team could be rebuilt," Jefferson said. "The Jazz are going to do what they've got to do to make sure they get the right players to make that playoff push next year."
Added Jefferson: They're a smart team. They always going to make the best decision for the Jazz because the fans deserve it."
Jazz fans, aside from taking barbs at his defense, will likely remember Jefferson for his offensive consistency, his relationships with guys like Paul Millsap and Mississippi pal Mo Williams, funny stories about his 10-foot-by-12-foot bed and his affectionate personality.
Big Al said he'd remember the way his team didn't stop fighting down the stretch before ultimately missing out on the playoffs by finishing two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the deep Western Conference.
"It just would have been so easy to fold up and give up on the season. We didn't," said Jefferson, who earned player of the week honors the last week of March. "We fought all the way to the end, all the way to the last game of the season. Even though we didn't make the playoffs, I don't think anybody here (in the locker room) should have a reason to put their head down because we did our best — from the coaching staff all the way to the trainers."
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