A New Beginning
On July 31, 2007, Al received word that the team who had brought him into the league was trading him, along with several other players and draft picks, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.
“I was sad, because people in Boston were like family to me,” he said. “I’m the type of guy, if I’m committed somewhere, I put everything into it. My heart. My soul. For (Wolves general manager) Kevin McHale to say, ‘Okay, I’ll trade Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson,’ that was big-time for me.”
The Wolves did their best to make him feel welcome, handing him a five-year, $65 million contract extension.
McHale envisioned Al as a franchise cornerstone, a player they could build their young team around.
And Al certainly didn’t disappoint.
Earning every dollar of his new contract, he started all 82 games for Minnesota, averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds, establishing himself as a premier low-post player and one of the brightest young stars in the sport.
His name was plastered all over the league leaderboards, finishing 20th in the league points per game, fifth in rebounding, second in offensive boards, and third in double-doubles.
More importantly, the Wolves had found their go-to guy, a floor leader who welcomed the challenge of leading a young, rebuilding team.
“I don’t necessarily think this is my team,” he said, “but I’m the one who has to set the example. I’m ready for that.”
Al was back at it again in 2008-09, averaging 22 points and ten rebounds until the year was cut short by an ACL tear. Prior to the injury, most NBA experts though Big Al was more than deserving of a spot on the 2008-09 All-Star team.
As Dime magazine wrote at the end of January 2009:
While the Timberwolves keep rolling, 9-2 so far this month, you’d be crazy not to notice Al Jefferson and the numbers that he is putting up. Nothing has really changed since the beginning of the year, only now Big Al is putting up gaudy stat lines in Ws instead of Ls.
With Western Conference coaches’ All-Star ballots due on Tuesday, Jefferson decided to leave a lasting impression for coaches checking SportsCenter and the box score to the tune of 39 points on 55% shooting (16-of-29), along with nine rebounds in a win over the Bulls.
Looking at his numbers this season, 22.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in only 36 minutes a night, Jefferson has finally helped the franchise turn the corner in the post-KG era.
Still only 24, Big Al had one of the brightest futures of any young NBA star.
“That guy can score in a shoebox,” McHale said in a 2008 interview. “He’s better than I even thought he’d be. He’s a long way from his ceiling as a player.”