SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz have their fill-in for Carlos Boozer, a prized piece that cost them two future first-round draft choices and a former first-round pick — Kosta Koufos — as part of a two-team trade made official Tuesday night.
How big man Al Jefferson — Mississippi native, former Minnesota Timberwolf and new Deron Williams beneficiary — will fit into a Utah lineup that already includes Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur is a puzzle for another day.
"With Memo, with Paul — we'll have to see where we're at," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, reluctant to envision a starting lineup for the 2010-11 NBA season, said by phone from his Illinois farm. "It's way too early to tell how we'll work him in."
For now, the Jazz coach is content reveling in the reality that Utah has a bona fide inside presence who can help Millsap pick up where two-time NBA All-Star Boozer — free-agent defector to Chicago — left off.
Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor calls the 25-year-old power forward/center "one of the better low-post players in the NBA," a 6-foot-10, 265-pound load who averaged 20.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in three seasons with Minnesota.
"After losing Boozer, I didn't know," Sloan said. "But I know Kevin worked his butt off to get a player of this caliber, and he certainly gives us a chance to compete."
Jefferson spent his first three NBA seasons with Boston, then was traded in 2007 as a centerpiece of the package that persuaded the Timberwolves to give former NBA MVP Kevin Garnet. In 2008-09 he averaged 11.0 rebounds and a career-high 23.1 points — adding his name to those of only Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Webber on the list of players who've averaged 23-plus points and more than 11 rebounds per game in a single season over the last 10 years.
"The other thing we like," O'Connor said, "is the fact that he's 25 years old ... but he's somebody that's been around."
Jefferson, though, does arrive with some blemishes.
His defense is said to be no better than that of Boozer's, whose own was oft-criticized during a six-year Utah stay.
He's still on probation following a February drunk-driving incident, something O'Connor said represented "the first time he ever really had an issue."
Perhaps most concerning: Jefferson's '08-09 season was limited to 50 games by an ACL knee tear requiring reconstructive surgery.
Before the trade is technically consummated and the Jazz formally introduce him later this week, Jefferson must take a physical exam.
But O'Connor — buoyed by averages of 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in 76 games last season, with none missed due to the knee — is confident he'll pass.
"We expect him to be better next year than he was this year," the GM said, "but the fact he played every game this year on a team that struggled really says something about him."
O'Connor and Jefferson spoke Tuesday.
"I said, 'You know, the only thing we really concern ourselves our with here is winning,' and 'How can you help us win?' " O'Connor said. "And I said, 'That's gonna be a role that you're gonna have to play into. We've had players come through here and they've accepted that role and excelled, and we've had some players that haven't and they've struggled.'"
Jefferson's response? "He's excited," O'Connor said. "He expressed to me that he thought it was a great opportunity."
O'Connor said the Jazz spoke with Minnesota about Jefferson before last February's trade deadline, and again before last month's NBA Draft.
Discussions heated up Monday, though, after the Timberwolves recently acquired Miami power forward Michael Beasley and their weekend trade talks with Dallas about Jefferson fell apart.
Moving Jefferson accommodated his trade request.
"Al is motivated to have a career-defining season and I recognize the Jazz will be the recipients of that, not us," Timberwolves basketball boss David Kahn said in a statement from the team. "I expect him to help Utah immensely. However, this trade was made in the best interests of not only Al, but also us.
"With the arrival of (Beasley), it would have been difficult to play Al the kind of minutes he deserves without jeopardizing the development of both Kevin Love and (Beasley)."
To absorb Jefferson's salary, which includes $13 million next season and $42 million over the next three, Utah used the $14 million traded player exception (TPE) it recently acquired when Boozer went to Chicago on a sign-and-trade.
Minnesota now has a $13 million TPE.
To make the trade, the Jazz also had to part with two picks.
One, acquired from Memphis in a February trade that Ronnie Brewer to the Grizzlies, is lottery-protected next season and has protection extending to No. 9 in 2015 before a $3 million cash payment must be conveyed.
The other, Utah's own, is at least top-10 protected for the next three years.
The Jazz also gave up 2008 first-rounder Kosta Koufos, a seldom-used big man who'll make $1.3 million next season. O'Connor lauded Koufos' recent improvement, but dealing him affords Utah a small degree of luxury-tax relief. Moreover, O'Connor said, "we felt we had too many at that position now."
It's unknown if Minnesota will keep Koufos.
But it is believed Jefferson's arrival won't alter Utah's plan for re-signing backup center Kyrylo Fesenko.
Getting Jefferson, though, is something O'Connor considers a "relief" — especially with Okur's status early next season uncertain following offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles.
"(Okur)," O'Connor said, "is going to have a tough time getting back into prime shape right away."
And that, at least for starters, could make a certain decision for Sloan decidedly easier.
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