05/09/2012 - 15:19
Utah’s Bright Future Excites Al
As Al Jefferson and the Utah Jazz cleaned out their lockers on Tuesday following their first round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, there was an air of positivity around the locker room that isn't common among the recently defeated.
But the 2011-2012 Utah Jazz weren't a common team. Picked by many to finish last in the Western Conference and left for dead after an opening night loss in Los Angeles, the Jazz fought for the next 65 games to reach their playoff dreams and did so in thrilling fashion.
"It was a great season. We reached our goal. We've got no reason to get our heads down. We did some things that nobody thought we could do," Big Al said on Tuesday. "It was satisfying for me to get into the playoffs for the first time in seven years and do it with this group of guys. I'm very pleased."
Big Al has proven that he's more than just a good player on a bad team. He can lead a playoff contender (Getty Images).
Al also took pride in the fact that this he proved something to himself and about himself at just 26-years-old.
"I think I proved that I can help lead a team to the playoffs," he told KFAN. "I've always been the ‘best player on a bad team.' That's not fun. So to be able to actually help lead a team along with Paul and Devin, to the playoffs — a team that was ‘supposed' to finish last in the West — that was a big accomplishment."
The Jazz departed for a long summer on Tuesday, but they weren't left to wonder what could have been. Instead they talked openly and honestly about what they believe will be.
"I think the sky's the limit for us," Al said after the Game 4 loss. "I'm not just saying, but this is the best group of guys I've ever been around. We never let no one have us thinking that we couldn't achieve this goal of getting to the playoffs. We always stayed together through thick and thin. At the end of the day, you can't ask for nothing more than a great group of guys like this."
That group holds the promise of bigger and better things in Utah's future. The starting lineup the Jazz sent out in Monday's finale was one of the league's youngest. The elder statesman, point guard Devin Harris is just 29-years-old. Big Al and Paul Millsap are each just 26, Gordon Hayward is just 22 and Derrick Favors turns 21 this summer.
The team's young core also features rookies Alec Burks, who also turns 21 this summer and Enes Kanter, who will celebrate his 20th birthday in two weeks. The only players over the age of 30 that Utah played in the postseason are veterans Josh Howard and Jamaal Tinsley, both of whom were brought in this season to bring some experience to the team. And Al believes the season gave the young Jazz something to shoot for going forward.
"I'm very confident all of us have the same goals and the same mindset of getting better as a team," he said on Tuesday "We got a little taste this year. Now we're greedy, we want more."
With players like Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, Al believes the future is bright in Utah (Getty Images).
In order to get there, they'll have to continue to work and Al plans to help his younger teammates in that regard. No. 25 enjoyed one of the best season's of his career this year after spending the entire offseason working out at P3 in Santa Barbara, California. He'll be going back this summer and bringing the two young big men, Favors and Kanter along with him.
"Santa Barbara kept me from breaking down this year," Al told KFAN. "My body took a lot and it held up. My body decreased a lot this season, but I still had enough energy to make that last little push to help get this team to the playoffs. I give that all to Santa Barbara. That's why I can't wait to get back there."
Al believes that with four solid big men — himself, Millsap, Favors and Kanter — in place, the Jazz have the beginning of a championship nucleus.
"In my opinion, you need bigs to win a championship. You need a lot of them," he said. "I can see [Enes] and Derrick just dominating the league like Tim Duncan and David Robinson did at one point in time — if they can stay together."
Favors in particular caught Al's eye this season. After spending the last 22 games of his rookie season in Utah following a trade from New Jersey last spring, Favors played in 65 of Utah's 66 games this season and improved across the board.
Training in Santa Barbara with teammates Devin Harris and Derrick Favors has been a boon for Al (Getty Images).
But perhaps his biggest improvement came after the All-Star break this season. Favors saw his minutes go up and averaged nine points and eight rebounds per game in the second half. In the team's four postseason games he averaged 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
"He's going to be something special," Big Al said. "I just hope I'm his teammate for the rest of my career. He's going to get better and better and when he gets some great post moves and when he learns how to use his athleticism instead of running over people ... he'll be trouble."
The summer of 2012 will be an important one for Al and his fellow Jazzmen and he knows they need to get better, but he's a believer in what's being built in Utah and the bright future ahead.
"We have to improve at every position," Al said. "But we have no reason to put our heads down. We did what a lot of people thought we couldn't do. And it's going to get better."
- Jazz reach goal yet not satisfied with playoff run (Associated Press, May 9, 2012)
- No need for an apology, Big Al (Standard Net, May 8, 2012)
- Jefferson believes Jazz should think ‘big' (Salt Lake Tribune, May 9, 2012)
- Monson: Sun will also rise on Jazz (Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 2012)
- Jazz Locker Clean Out: Al Jefferson May 8 (1320 KFAN, May 8, 2012)
- Utah Jazz season ends in loss, but it could have been worse (Deseret News, May 8, 2012)
- Locker Room Clean Out – Al Jefferson (NBA.com, May 8, 2012)
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