Al Jefferson is on a contending NBA team for the first time in his life — and truth be told, it's a bit of a double-edged sword.
"It's a wonderful feeling," he said. "But the only bad thing is that when we do lose a game, it hurts a lot more now. It sticks with me. You'd think I'd be used to losing game after game, but now that we win games, when we do lose one, it feels a lot worse.
After three seasons with the rebuilding Celtics and three with the even-worse Minnesota Timberwolves, Jefferson has found a new beginning in Salt Lake City. Playing for veteran head coach Jerry Sloan, alongside All-Star point guard Deron Williams, Big Al is playing for a Utah Jazz team that should be a serious threat in the Western Conference this season.
"It's a wonderful situation," he said. "Wonderful offense for me. Coach Sloan has been amazing, and D-Will is one of the top point guards in this game and has made my life easy. I couldn't ask for anything else."
Sloan said that while Jefferson was a bit underwhelming in his first few weeks with the Jazz after being traded last summer, he's gradually grown into a top-notch big man in Utah's system.
"He's done well," the coach said. "He's played hard. He's worked hard. Hopefully he can continue to make himself a better player."
The Celtics selected the Mississippi-bred Jefferson with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2004 draft, in the same draft class as fellow C's youngsters Delonte West and Tony Allen. Jefferson and the other youngsters spent three mostly unsuccessful seasons in Boston between 2004 and '07, before the Celtics started over and rebuilt in the summer of '07 around Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Jefferson has had to transition from being on losing teams in Boston and Minnesota to now being on a winner.
"When you're on a losing team, it's all about you," said Doc Rivers, who coached Jefferson during the Boston years. "Everything goes through you. When you go to a winning team, you have to sacrifice shots. You have to sacrifice a lot of things. You have to do things differently. But players with character and players who want to win, they figure that out. Al will figure that out."
Jefferson and his new team return to Boston on Friday night, as the Celtics take on the Jazz at the TD Garden. It's been nearly four years since the big man left the Hub, but he still has a soft spot for playing at the Garden.
"It's always going to be a great thing," Jefferson said. "Different. Different in a good way — coming back to where I first started. This is the team that gave me my first job in the NBA, and for that, I'll always have the utmost respect for this team."
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