NBA Sunday: Al Jefferson Not Bracing For Trade
The Utah Jazz feature one of the deepest frontcourts in the entire league headlined by veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and supported off the bench by former lottery picks Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Both Jefferson and Millsap will be unrestricted free agents this summer and the presence of those two talented young big men behind them, waiting for their opportunity to take on a larger role, has led to the two veterans hearing their names in a plethora of trade rumors over the last few months.
Jefferson serves as the Jazz’s leading scorer (17.2) and rebounder (9.8) and will earn $15 million this season. The ninth year veteran is fully expected to be near the top of the upcoming free agent class for centers along with Los Angeles Lakers star Dwight Howard.
However, that hasn’t stopped Jefferson’s name from surfacing in the daily trade rumor mill since potentially losing an All-Star caliber talent in free agency without receiving any assets in return is a huge risk – a risk most franchises don’t take.
The ninth year veteran center says being mentioned in trade reports doesn’t bother him much nowadays compared to years past and he doesn’t expect to be dealt at this year’s trade deadline.
“It’s my ninth year in the league man,” Jefferson said to HOOPSWORLD regarding the trade rumors. “It’s just part of the business. My first couple of years in the league I used to be listening to the rumors daily and then I’d hear my name in those types of trade rumors. But this is my ninth year and its part of the business. There are things you’re just going to have to deal with. It’s just like you say they’re rumors, you know, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be true. It’s a part of the game.”
The Jazz reached the playoffs last season with Jefferson as the franchise’s centerpiece, a trip many pundits believed the center couldn’t produce. This season, Utah currently sits ninth in the Western Conference standings, less than two games back for the last playoff spot.
While Jefferson’s future in Utah past this season remains up in the air, the veteran makes it clear that playing in Utah and finishing what he’s helped build over the past few seasons is at the top of his future priority list.
“The great thing about Utah’s crowd is that they’re not just there to watch basketball, they know basketball,” Jefferson said about his joy playing in Utah. “They’re on you if they know you’re supposed to be doing something that you’re not doing, but they truly support you. It’s a great feeling playing for them. It is good to play in front of people who know the game of basketball, who knows you’re not superman, can do everything or make every shot. Utah fans just want you to play hard and that’s something you can do, something you can control. It’s great playing in front of them.”
The Jazz currently have $26 million in salary commitments on the books for next season and will have over $30 million in cap space available. Forward Marvin Williams has an early termination option worth $7.5 million and if the veteran decides to exercise this option the team will have even more room to work the free agency and trade markets.
The Jazz have eight players, not including Williams, on the roster who will be free agents next summer with Jefferson, Millsap, Mo Williams, Raja Bell, Randy Foye, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and Kevin Murphy all expiring at season’s end.
For Hornets Guard Donald Sloan, Constant Change Builds Stronger Character
Most players start to fully understand the business side of the NBA toward the end of their respective careers, but New Orleans Hornets guard Donald Sloan has become accustomed to it much earlier than many league veterans.
Sloan, in his second season, has played in 55 career contests but has suited up for three different franchises during this span. There have stops in Atlanta, Cleveland and New Orleans but Sloan hasn’t been able to stick around with a franchise for an entire season.
Sloan says the lessons taught during his journey since entering the league has made him stronger mentally, allowed him to persevere and remain level headed.
“It’s very cliché but it’s the absolute truth,” Sloan told HOOPSWORLD about the constant changes making him stronger mentally. “It makes you never forget where you came from. During the summer, even when I was with Cleveland and stuff like that, I worked out in my D-League stuff. I never worked out in my Cleveland stuff; I didn’t work out in my Atlanta stuff or even my New Orleans stuff. I’d always work out in my Erie Bayhawks stuff or my Reno Big Horns stuff just so everyone knew that’s where I was.”
The former Texas A&M product started this season as a regular rotation player in head coach Byron Scott’s nightly lineup posting averages of 4.1 assists and 1.9 assists in just under 13 minutes with Cleveland.
But despite the strong play off the bench, the franchise waived him on Christmas day.
While the setback was initially tough to swallow, Sloan says he didn’t spend much time agonizing over the Cavs’ personnel decision and was already seeking out the next opportunity to display his talents for another club.
“It wasn’t life changing or anything like that,” Sloan said of finding out the news he was waived by Cleveland. “It was something that had happened to me already before with me being in Atlanta. It wasn’t really a big deal for me. I knew that whatever happened, at the end of the day I’d get back up and stand tall on my feet.”
“They gave me a great opportunity, a legitimate opportunity,” Sloan added on the Cavs organization. “Some teams will say they’ll give you an opportunity, but you’re not really playing or just there. This was a legitimate opportunity. I actually started quite a bit last season once Kyrie (Irving) went down. I led the team during the summer league with (rookie) Dion (Waiters), came into camp, won the backup spot, it was a great thing. Unfortunately, things turned or changed in the end, but that’s the side of the business.”
The Hornets signed Sloan to a 10-day contract last week after his brief stint with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League where the guard averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in two contests with the team.
Last season Sloan signed two 10-day contracts with the Hornets but he knew at the time the deals wouldn’t amount to a long term commitment. But this season the Hornets may be in a different mindset and Sloan is approaching his latest opportunity with a hunter’s mentality to secure a deal.
“It’s another chance,” Sloan said of his signing with the Hornets. “I was here for two 10-day’s last year. It wasn’t really a rest-of-the-year type plan. I knew that going in. My agent knew that going in. But now I’m here on my third 10-day with this team, so we’ll see. I think they want someone who is going to come in and compete, play hard on the defensive end and be able to run the show.”
“It’s a situation where you can’t leave anything to chance,” Sloan added. “Any opportunity that you get, you definitely have to make the most of it and have a great showing whether it is ten seconds or ten minutes. Like I said, I’ve always been that type of guy, so now we just play the waiting game.
While some guys become accustomed to playing for one franchise for a few seasons upon entering the league, the constant shuffling and various address changes have served to create their own sense of normalcy for Sloan.
“It’s tough,” Sloan said. “But last year being my first year in the league and kind of bouncing around, I’m not really familiar anyway with staying in a place for too long. It’s not abnormal for me to keep moving around, that’s kind of how it’s been throughout my career and it’s been a short career so far with this just being my second year. It’s not different for me, it’s actually quite normal, but to be somewhere for a while and stick for a while would be great. This isn’t too different from last year.”
The early career adversity Sloan has faced and overcome to this point has built rock solid character strength. Now, he’s focused on securing a long term commitment and believes it’s just a matter of time before his patience pays off.
“Once that opportunity is given, I’ll make it happen,” Sloan said.
Up Close With Minnesota Timberwolves Guard Ricky Rubio
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in the thick of the Western Conference’s playoff chase last season before point guard Ricky Rubio tore his ACL, which drove their descent down the standings.
This season the T’Wolves are once again in the midst of a playoff run as Rubio continues to work his way back into form. But the team is now reeling from All-Star forward Kevin Love’s latest injury setback.
Rubio talks with HOOPSWORLD on Minnesota’s injury problems, his surgically repaired knee and the pressure on the club to win now in this exclusive interview.