Celtics-Timberwolves game preview: Al Jefferson 'has the patience of a grandmother knitting on her porch'

Sunday, December 20, 2009

When Al Jefferson was in Boston, he was the future. I watched him, saw his baby-soft hands, and looked forward to the time when Big Al would grow into his massive potential. I looked at his footwork and saw shades of Kevin McHale, looked at his soft touch down low and knew that one day, Al Jefferson would be one of the top low-post scorers in the NBA. I watched his potential and couldn't wait to see Al team with Paul Pierce to be one of the league's best inside-outside tandems.

Fortunately for the Celtics, that day never came. Jefferson was packaged in the Kevin Garnett trade and sent to Minnesota, where he (no surprise) blossomed into one of the best interior threats in basketball. While the Celtics were busy winning the 2008 NBA title, Jefferson came into his own with the Timberwolves. But the rest of the team has yet to catch up to Big Al.

Still, Jefferson remains unfazed by his team's lack of wins (5-22 record) and lack of top-notch talent, and sees hope for the future.

Via the Boston Globe:
“I do see hope,’’ he said. “The thing I have been through in Minnesota is, when I first got here with Randy Wittman and Kevin McHale, it was a rebuilding stage. Now two years later, we got David Kahn, we got Kurt Rambis, so it’s now Stage 1, the rebuilding stage. Luckily, I’m still young and I am able to go through that. But the difference is now that I have David Kahn, who is committed to making us a playoff team.

“They said three years max that we could be a playoff team. One year is almost gone, so next year, maybe this offseason we can add some pieces, do whatever we are going to do. And I can see it. I am really happy about what’s been going on here.’’
Happy? With a 5-22 record and a roster that could probably use even a few of the players on Boston's D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws? Only a loyal man, could be happy with what's going on in Minnesota. But Jefferson, who, as the Globe's Gary Washburn wrote, "has the patience of a grandmother knitting on her porch," seems to realize that nothing comes easy in life, that the best things are worth working towards:
“It’s not going to come easy; you have to work for everything,’’ he said. “There’s going to be times like this. I was in Boston and I was going through the same thing in Boston. We were rebuilding. I got traded for one of the best players [in the NBA], put myself in a position here, got blessed with a nice contract. So this is what it’s all about. It’s about working your way to the top. It’s not about people giving you stuff, making it easier for you."
I'd prefer to see Jefferson posting double-doubles for a championship contender (and I'm sure he would too), but a player who is in such a bad situation, yet does not complain, must be highly-respected. Losing so many games must be frustrating, no? Playing on a perennial bottom-feeder must eat at Jefferson, make him hate playing for Minnesota... right? Not so, according to Jefferson:
“At the end of the day, you could be playing with the worst team in the league but it’s still the best job in the world. It’s still the best job to be on the worst team. It’s a blessing. So I don’t feel that way. If I got waived or got cut then I would feel bad. I am in this league and I rather be playing for the worst team than not playing at all.’’
But wouldn't Jefferson rather be playing for Boston, contending for championships every year? Yes, but he's willing to wait for his own shot at it, a shot he still thinks will come:
"Boston will always be home to me. It’s like a homecoming. It’s always good to come back and see the guys I came in here with. To see the goals they have reached and I know my day is coming to be where they have been. That’s what I hope."

Things to watch for in tonight's game:
  1. Minny's inside tandem - A couple days after over-the-hill Elton Brand and inexperienced Marreese Speights had their way down low with Boston's front line, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love come to town.  They will both be all over the glass, and both are talented and relentless scorers.  Fortunately for the Celtics, Love's return means Oleksiy Pecherov won't be playing tonight.  Why is it fortunate that a bum won't be playing?  He murdered the Celtics the last time the two teams met.  For one night, at least, it looked like Pecherov was actually worthy of being an NBA player.
  2. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce's field day? - Allen and Pierce might as well take the night off defensively; it doesn't take an All-Defense Team-caliber defender to guard Corey Brewer or Damien Wilkins.  On the other end, Brewer and Wilkins aren't horrible defenders, but Boston's wings should have a whole lot of energy saved up for their offense.
  3. Boston's turnover struggles - After a few games with precise ball-handling, the Celtics' old nemesis - turnovers - reared its ugly head in full-force against Philadelphia.  The C's not only made turnovers; they made careless, bone-headed mistakes that resulted in a one-point loss.  If the C's don't take care of the ball tonight, this is another game that could be a lot closer than they plan for.

Game notes:
  • Lester Hudson is back on the Celtics' roster, after a brief stint in the D-League.  Hudson played well for most of his time with the Maine Red Claws, but had a dud in his final game (7 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds). 
  • Boston looks to get back on track at home, after the Friday-night loss to Philly dropped their home record to 8-4 for the season.  (They are 12-1 on the road.)
  • Paul Pierce is in a bit of a slump: After scoring in double figures in each of the first 17 games, he's scored in single figures in three of the last eight games.


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