MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In their quest to get more athletic, faster and financially flexible, the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking to move power forward Al Jefferson's slow-it-down, low-post game and chunky contract.
The Utah Jazz were searching for a replacement for Carlos Boozer who can score and rebound on the block and divert some attention from star point guard Deron Williams on the perimeter.
They found the right match in each other.
The Timberwolves agreed to send Jefferson to the Jazz for two future first-round draft picks and center Kosta Koufos, the teams confirmed Tuesday. Utah used the traded player exception it got from Chicago in the Boozer deal to complete the transaction and give Minnesota even more salary cap flexibility going forward.
Jefferson averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season for the Timberwolves in his first year back from a major knee injury in February 2009. But the Wolves have signed center Darko Milicic, agreed to terms with center Nikola Pekovic and traded for Michael Beasley to reshape a small front line into a bigger, and sleeker, unit.
In the end, Jefferson was viewed as expendable because his style of play, while extremely effective on the offensive end, does not fit with what the Timberwolves want to do under coach Kurt Rambis.
"With Kevin Love and Michael Beasley on the team, there wouldn't have been enough playing time for everybody to showcase Al," Timberwolves president David Kahn said in a conference call on Tuesday night.
He will see plenty of action with the perennial playoff contender in Utah, teaming with Paul Millsap to help fill a void created when Boozer went to Chicago.
"We are happy to acquire a young power player who has developed into one of the best low-post scorers in the league," Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor said in a statement provided by the team. "We gave up significant assets to obtain Al and we look forward to watching him progress with our team."
Jefferson came to the Timberwolves in 2007 as the main cog in the blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. He averaged 23.1 points and 11 rebounds in 50 games the following season before he blew out his right knee in 2009.
Jefferson was the last remaining player from that deal. Former general manager Kevin McHale was fond of Jefferson's footwork and wide array of low-post moves, the kind of old-school, back-to-the-basket game that worked so well for McHale as a Hall of Fame player in Boston.
The match looked promising at the beginning, with Jefferson signing a five-year, $65 million contract and averaging 21 points and 11.1 rebounds in his first season in Minnesota. He was pushing for the All-Star team in his second season, dominating offensively when he tore ligaments in his right knee in the final game before the break in New Orleans.
The 25-year-old Jefferson came into the league during the down years in Boston and was traded to lowly Minnesota, so he's never known what it's like to play for a winner.
Now he will.
"I think that Al recognizes that it will be at least a couple more years before we're really humming," Kahn said. "He's at a point in his career where he wants to experience what it's like to win. I don't have a problem with that. I completely understand where he's coming from."
The Jazz needed to make a move after losing Boozer (five years, $75 million) and Kyle Korver (three years, $15 million) to the Bulls, two defections that will make this season more challenging for Williams.
The Jazz orchestrated a sign-and-trade deal with the Bulls for Boozer in exchange for roughly $14 million in value in this trade exception, allowing them to swing a deal just like the one they agreed to with Minnesota. Jefferson has three years and $42 million left on his contract, but the exception allows the Jazz to take on his salary without exceeding the cap.
"Al is motivated to have a career-defining season and I recognize the Jazz will be the recipients of that, not us," Kahn said. "I expect him to help Utah immensely."
The Jazz will also send Minnesota the conditional first-round pick it got from Memphis in the Ronnie Brewer trade, plus another future first-rounder.
For all of his skill on offense, Jefferson has been a liability on defense, and his game is tailor-made for the half-court style that Jerry Sloan likes in Utah.
While the Wolves did not get any current players back for arguably their best player, Kahn called the financial flexibility they earned "enormous" and said the team isn't done making moves yet. They are in talks with Milwaukee free agent Luke Ridnour, but Kahn hinted that bigger things still may be in the works.
"We're only about halfway through this exercise," he said.