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Utah Jazz: Richard Jefferson a leader on, off the court

Published November 8, 2013 9:15 am

Jazz • Veteran forward is averaging 10 points per game this season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Boston • Richard Jefferson didn't score a point as the Jazz clawed their way back into the game Wednesday night, cutting away at a huge deficit so that when the 17,000-plus at TD Garden chanted "DE-FENSE!" late in the contest, they had to mean it.

Jefferson, Utah's starting small forward, didn't play a single minute in the fourth quarter, watching from the bench while his teammates closed a 22-point gap to six.

But that's not to say he didn't play a role in the turnaround.

Coming out of the locker room following the Jazz's worst quarter of this winless season — an agonizing 12-minute stretch that in which Utah had nearly as many shot-clock violations (two) as made baskets (four) — it was Jefferson who helped get the team back on track.

He slashed to the rim for three early layups and got to the foul line four times en route to nine points in the period. But his contribution went beyond his stat line.

"He did a good job of leading the young guys in the second half," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said.

If the Jazz (0-5) are going to establish themselves as winners at some point in the future, it seems sure to be on the backs of Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Co.

But even if Jefferson and the $11 million he'll make in this final year of his contract are in Utah for just one season, the veteran could play a key role in the transition.

Before point guard Jamaal Tinsley was signed late last month, Jefferson was the oldest player on the Jazz roster — the team's "elder statesman," as Corbin called him. Jefferson, a former lottery pick out of Arizona in 2001, has more game experience than Hayward, Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks combined.

He's played in big games, reaching the NBA finals with the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003.

Jefferson, who is in his 13th season, has seen many of his former teammates leave the game or at least have to swap jerseys for new suits.

Jefferson played as his one-time point guard, Jason Kidd, coached the Nets to victory Tuesday in Brooklyn.

"He always made the game easy for me," Kidd said. "I'm happy to see he's still playing at a high level."

Jefferson has said he's not trying to leap into the coaching ranks. He is averaging 10 points and 3.4 rebounds while playing 25 minutes a night. But look to the Jazz bench during timeouts, and you'll see the veteran giving tips to his young teammates.

"I know some veteran guys like Richard Jefferson was talking to me on the bench and was saying, 'You just have to stay focused. You cannot put your head down,'" Kanter said. "I appreciate him. He's helping me a lot."

The losses have piled up early for the Jazz — five in a row — marking the Jazz's worst start since the team moved to Utah in 1979.

"It's not lack of hustle," Jefferson said. "At no point in time has this team ever quit or not played hard. But we're not playing as smart as we should. There's no sympathy for being young, but a lot of that comes from youth."

Jefferson can help with that, but there's work left to do.

"Even if we did come back," he said after the Jazz's eventual 97-87 loss to Boston, "we didn't do enough to get the job done."

afalk@sltrib.com

Jazz at Bulls

O At the United Center (Chicago)

Tipoff • Friday, 6 p.m. MT

Records • Jazz 0-5; Bulls 1-3

About the Jazz • Had a 13-point lead in the first quarter Wednesday against Boston, but ended up trailing by as much as 25. … The team's 0-5 start is the worst since the franchise moved to Utah in 1979. … Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward have handled the scoring, averaging 19 and 18.6 points a night, respectively. … Guard Brandon Rush made his Jazz debut Tuesday, but did not attempt a shot.

About the Bulls •Â Coming off a 97-80 loss to the Pacers. … Derrick Rose is back on the court after a knee surgery sidelined him for all of 2012-13. He's averaging 15 points a night, but the point guard is giving the ball away more than he's assisting his teammates so far . … Former Jazz forward Carlos Boozer leads the Bulls, in scoring, averaging 18.3 points a game.