In twilight of career, Jefferson sees his shot
By Bill Oram
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Oct 14 2013 11:25PM
The summer of 2008 was not a bright spot in the 12-year NBA timeline of new Jazz small forward Richard Jefferson.
The career New Jersey Net had been traded for the first time, and didn’t understand how the team he had helped to two NBA Finals and three division titles in three years could ship him to Milwaukee in exchange for Laverne and Shirley.
OK, fine. It was for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. Laverne and Shirley would have meant Milwaukee actually gave up something of value in exchange for Jefferson, who averaged 22.6 points the year before.
The son of Christian missionaries, Jefferson was used to moving around a lot — not in the NBA, where he had the rare luxury of stability. So no, those were not happy days.
"I felt betrayed," Jefferson said. He learned about the trade from a kid at his training camp two minutes before the Nets called him. He said he didn’t "handle the trade to Milwaukee very well."
When he was packaged from Golden State to the Jazz on July 15, the 33-year-old had an entirely different reaction. He was traded along with Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush, and while none of the three were major contributors to the Warriors’ playoff run, they still had significantly more basketball to offer a team than Kevin Murphy, the Jazz’s 2012 second round pick.
So Jefferson was … Hurt? Angry? Vexed as to how he was one-third as valuable as a player who was subsequently waived by Golden State and now plays in France?
None of the above. Jefferson has figured this stuff out. He understood that the Jazz were thrilled to make him their highest-paid player at $11 million for one season — his contract comes off the books next summer — and that the Warriors were just as tickled to dump his contract so they could sign Andre Iguodala. He wants to play two more years, then slide into a career in management or broadcasting.
This time his reaction was more … Well, to paraphrase the gals from Shotz Brewery: Give him a chance, he’ll take it.
"When you’re an older player and you’re making a high number and your number is probably not to your value, a lot of times you become trade bait," Jefferson said. "And I understand that. I saw it happen to friends, I saw it happen to vets. I saw it happen to mentors."
Jefferson averaged just 3.1 points per game last season, and his minutes were cut in half during an exciting Warriors playoff run that culminated in the second round against San Antonio.
The question coming into Utah was if Jefferson had anything left other than a good basketball mind and an ability to mentor the hive of young players in place.
In the Jazz’s third preseason game, on Oct. 12 against the Los Angeles Clippers, he scored 13 points and added eight rebounds. But his true stamp on the game was a blow-by reverse dunk, on which he beat the Clippers’ Jared Dudley off the dribble from the 3-point line and was unimpeded on his way to a one-handed slam on the back side.
"He came into camp in great shape," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "I think he’s been in all the drills in two-a-days, didn’t miss anything, didn’t try to take himself out of anything, so he’s gaining respect of the guys, in my opinion."
While Jefferson’s experience and savvy have been touted throughout camp, the Jazz may need him to be less of a locker room presence than did the Warriors. Here, he needs to play.
It’s something that can be said of all three players who came over from Golden State in the Warriors trade.
"I think we just need to prove a point that we belong in this league," Rush said, "and with a second opportunity we can produce."