It's About Time: Al Jefferson Is Traded To the Utah Jazz

Max MinskerCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19:  :Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Al Jefferson #25 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 19, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 104-96.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Al Jefferson was the last man standing from the trade that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics after the 06-07 season. Jefferson was the key piece to that trade, and the Wolves decided to lock the young big man up long term in 2007 when he signed an extension that would keep him in Minnesota until at least the 2012-2013 season.

Why the Timberwolves decided to hire coach Kurt Rambis, I will never know. Kurt Rambis likes to run an up-tempo offense. He likes to get up and down the floor quickly and score buckets in transition.

Al Jefferson is at his best when he can jog slowly down the floor, burrow under the basket, and score in the low post where he has developed a great array of moves that may be among the best in the league. 

It was pretty obvious that when Rambis was hired, that Jefferson would not play the remainder of his extension with the Wolves (again, I have no idea why they hired Rambis). Al Jefferson is an up-and-coming star, and as a Timberwolves fan I am sad to see him go.

Jefferson, who is only 25, can get you 20 and 10 most nights, as he has averaged that two of the last three years, as Jefferson did not average 20 and 10 last year. Coincidentally Kurt Rambis took over as head coach last season. Hmmm.

Jefferson took significantly less shots per game this year than he did three years ago, which was the last time he played close to a full season. He also had less opportunities in the low post where he is most effective. It also doesn't help that Jefferson spent a lot more time per game on the bench than in past season.

The Timberwolves should not have hired Rambis in the first place, but since they did Jefferson had to go. Though he is a great player, Jefferson has his negatives. He plays terrible defense and he still has three years and $42 million left on his contract. 

The Jazz are in a perfect situation to trade for Jefferson. They just lost star power forward Carlos Boozer, but received a trade exception in a sign and trade deal with the Bulls.

A trade exception is when two teams are involved in a single player deal (although draft selections and cash can be included) where the team who is trading the player is allowed, for one year after the trade to receive the amount of the salary in another trade that the player they traded was due that year (in this case around thirteen million) without giving any salary in return.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were asking for multiple first round picks, and as little salary as possible in return for Jefferson, and the Jazz fit the profile perfectly. They were in need of a big man, and had that trade exception stashed. Strangely enough, Jefferson is owed $13 million this season. 

The Jazz may have actually benefited from this switch. Carlos Boozer is a great player, don't get me wrong, but he is already 28 years old, and his contract will take him through his 33rd birthday. Boozer and Jefferson play a similar game and while Jefferson isn't as good as Boozer on defense his is as good or better when it comes to low post scoring.

It also helps Jefferson's case when you add in the fact that he can play center and Boozer cannot. This allows them to put both Jefferson and Millsap on the floor at the same time and either get rid of Mehmet Okur or bring him off the bench.

The Jazz already have a solid team in place especially if they match the Trail Blazers offer for restricted free agent Wesley Matthews. This should make for even more production from Jefferson.

Not only will he get the touches that he needs in the low post, but he will have a good team around him which means more one on ones, and playing with a point guard like Deron Williams could get him better looks than he had with the inexperienced Johnny Flynn. 

Everyone is criticizing the Wolves decision to basically unload Al Jefferson to the Jazz, but this is a move that I believe helps the Wolves. While the Wolves probably could have gotten more for Jefferson, what they really needed was to get rid of his contract to clear cap space, and that's what they did.

Al Jefferson was preventing the Wolves from moving on, and preventing Kurt Rambis from fully installing his run and gun system. Michael Beasley and Kevin Love are two very talented players who fit into the system, and while I don't want to say the Wolves won't skip a beat, (they will) but they are both young and can effectively make up for the minutes Jefferson played last season. 

The Timberwolves also receive two first round draft picks in this deal. It's no secret the Wolves like to stack up on draft picks, and they pick up a couple more here. While they probably could have gotten more for Big Al, in this case I think the Wolves didn't want more.

With Ricky Rubio potentially coming over after this season, the Wolves are not trying to win this year. With so many competitive teams in the west there is no way the Wolves are competing for a championship anyway. 

By stocking up on draft picks, the Wolves prepare for the future, and if nothing else they don't spend $42 million over the next three years. The Wolves are not preparing for the 10-11 season with this trade, and they weren't trying to. They are preparing for 2013, and 2014, and 2015 and so on.

This move gives the Timberwolves roster flexibility going forward. I am a big fan of roster flexibility myself. To build a team a team needs to do a couple of things. First, a team needs to get rid of their bad contracts. Depending on how bad the team is you need to get rid of the players who are costing the most money.

The Wolves have more than adequate backup(s) at power forward. I believe getting rid of Jefferson was a necessary move because not only did his style clash with coach Kurt Rambis' style (which hurt his production), but he was preventing the team from growing because of his large, not to mention binding contract.

Roster flexibility is something that every young team needs. Being able absorb more salary than you are giving out on a trade, being able to sign a solid (hopefully young) free agent is necessary when it comes to rebuilding.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward, and that is what the Wolves are doing by trading Jefferson. He wasn't going to bring them a ring, (he may have actually been preventing them from one) so they let him go.

The Dallas Mavericks are an example of a team who isn't going to be winning a championship this season, yet they are deep into the luxury tax and do not have any flexibility whatsoever. The Atlanta Hawks just signed Joe Johnson to a maximum deal this summer.

This gives them little room to work with over the next few years because they are committing all of their available cap to Johnson. These teams will make the playoffs every year and get a draft pick in the early to mid 20's, but they won't get the impact they need in order to get to the finals. 

The next thing a team needs to do is take a lesson from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and build through the draft.  Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka all drafted by the Thunder. It's a pretty impressive resume. They added Cole Aldrich, Tibor Pleiss, Latavious Williams, and Ryan Reid in this years draft. The Thunder have built a great team from the draft and other rebuilding teams should follow that model.

The Timberwolves need to draft quality talent and develop that talent if they want to become a competitive team in the future. The Wolves have been successful in the past, but they to draft better players and more consistently. The Wolves' second round selection a couple years ago, Nikola Pekovic, was just signed to a three-year $13 million deal and is expected to log big minutes this year for the Wolves.

Corey Brewer and Johnny Flynn are good role players, Wayne Ellington could be one in the future, and Ricky Rubio is supposedly the savior of the franchise—I believe he actually could be.

The picks the Wolves made this year are probably not as good as they could be and they should have been better, but hopefully the Wolves will make smarter decisions  in the future. They are going to have to if they want to build a contender. 

The last thing the Wolves need to do is something this trade puts them into position to do. They need to build a roster that allows them to run their system effectively. The Wolves have set themselves up in a great position as far as this category goes. Acquiring players like Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, and Wesley Johnson this off-season and drafting players like Wayne Ellington, and Johnny Flynn last season have really put the Wolves in a good position to run their up tempo offense.

Getting rid of Al Jefferson was another step towards being able to run Kurt Rambis' fast paced system. Drafting Ricky Rubio last year was another great piece for the team as he is fit to run an up tempo offense.

Look at the Lakers. Running their triangle offense has led them to five championships in the last decade and running the point has been none other than Derek Fisher. Fisher is a point guard who rarely drives the lane and is a good outside shooter, a perfect triangle point guard. What the Timberwolves need to do is keep getting players to fit their system.

If they can do these things effectively I think the Wolves can be a competitive team in five years or less. 

Personally, I think it was a good move by the Wolves. People have been quick to criticize it, however I believe it's a solid move for the Wolves' future. The picks and new found flexibility are more valuable than some people may think. When we look back on this deal in the future, I believe it will be seen as a necessary rebuilding move for the organization. Only time will tell.