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Breaking Down What Al Jefferson Would Bring to Dismantled Phoenix Suns

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Breaking Down What Al Jefferson Would Bring to Dismantled Phoenix Suns
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Once upon a time, there was not a young star in the NBA with a bigger, brighter future than Al Jefferson.

The former preps-to-pros star anchored the Boston Celtics' acquisition of future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett thanks to his unique blend of size, strength and beyond-his-years skills.

While "Big Al" has never put forth the transcendent efforts he once seemed destined for, he has built a nine-year run of quiet but effective production.

He's not exactly a household name among the sport's casual fans, but that's more a result of his employers (midmarket teams, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz) and less about his on-court endeavors.

In basketball circles, he's regarded as one of the most effective back-to-the-basket scorers in today's game. He has two seasons of 21-plus points and 11-plus rebounds to his name, along with his current run of six straight seasons with at least 17.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Set to hit the 2013 free-agent market, Jefferson's name has been near the forefront of the NBA trade rumor mill throughout the season. His suitors never used to have an identity, but now one team has emerged.

According to Paul Coro of azcentral.com, the Suns have "shown interest" in Jefferson. While the names involved have yet to surface, Coro cites current Suns center Marcin Gortat as an obvious piece of the deal to make the financial aspects of the trade work.

Jefferson's $15 million contract will expire after this season. Assuming the Suns can pry him out of Utah, it seems unlikely they'd part with the necessary pieces for a two-month-plus rental considering that playoff basketball is not in the Suns' immediate future.

But what could the arrival of Jefferson bring to a franchise struggling to regain relevance following the 2012 offseason departure of Steve Nash?

For starters, he could give this team an identity, something it's searched for without Nash. If Jefferson merely matched his averages from Utah (17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game), he'd already be the team's best scorer and rebounder. Considering the supporting cast he'd join (and the one he'd be leaving behind), his numbers would likely increase in the desert.

The Suns have failed to identify a consistent scoring threat on their roster. Point guard Goran Dragic leads the club with scoring at just 14.2 points per game. Five other players have averaged double figures, but none of them have tallied better than 12.8.

The offensive threat of Jefferson near the basket would help relieve defensive attention from Dragic, and the duo could create better spacing for the Suns' shooters.

Jefferson's production would also help the club take one giant step forward in its rebuilding project. Phoenix potentially holds two lottery picks in the upcoming draft (theirs and the L.A. Lakers'). Should the ping-pong balls take some favorable bounces for this organization, its massive rebuilding effort suddenly shrinks in magnitude.

But this would not be a risk-free acquisition. Without speculating on the potential players involved, the simple act of adding Jefferson to the mix offers its own set of risks.

Assuming Dwight Howard stays with the Los Angeles Lakers and Andrew Bynum fails to prove his health over the next two months, Jefferson emerges at the top of the center position in this free-agent class. The 28-year-old will likely view this summer as his final opportunity to demand a major contract since he will have logged plenty of NBA mileage on his body before his next deal expires.

Not to mention the fact that while he's talented, he's far from a superstar. He's played postseason basketball just twice in his career, once as a seldom-used rookie for the Boston Celtics and last season during Utah's four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

He's also a curious fit for this Suns team given that the majority of the young players on the roster appear best suited for an up-tempo system. A skilled, low-post bruiser like Jefferson requires a much slower, more controlled pace to maximize his effectiveness.

Jefferson isn't the only name linked to Phoenix, and new ones could surface between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

But with Utah likely to trade one of its starting frontcourt players and Phoenix holding some intriguing options to bolster the Jazz backcourt, this could be one of the few rumors that actually comes to fruition before the trade season closes.

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