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When Al Jefferson looked up at the scoreboard during an Oct.�10 preseason game in London and saw that the Celtics were trailing the Timberwolves, one thought quickly ran through his mind: We need to come back. One problem: Jefferson had been traded from Boston to Minnesota 10 weeks earlier as part of the package for Kevin Garnett. "It was weird," recalls Jefferson. "I came back to reality real quick."
The reality for the T-Wolves is this: For the first time in 12 seasons they will be without Garnett, the franchise's alltime leader in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. While team officials don't expect a 22-year-old to fill Garnett's shoes, they do believe that Jefferson can replace much of KG's production. "We needed to have somebody who could score down low and could rebound," says coach Randy Wittman. "Al brought those two things."
Interestingly, the turning point in Jefferson's breakout season came last December, when his name began to come up in trade rumors. "That got me going and playing better," he says. Jefferson more than doubled his previous career highs in scoring and rebounding, and his 11.0 boards per game ranked seventh in the league. By delivering on some of his vast potential, Jefferson became a desirable enough commodity to be traded for a 10-time All-Star. "To know that Minnesota wanted me so bad that they would give up KG means a lot," says Jefferson. "At the same time, I'm not here to be the next Kevin Garnett. I'm here to be Al Jefferson."
Jefferson alone cannot turn around the T-Wolves' fortunes. They hope that Gerald Green, another former Celtic; Randy Foye, last year's top pick; and Corey Brewer, this year's No.�1 from Florida, will form a foundation for the future. "We're starting with a group of young players who are talented but not yet proven," says Wittman. "We have to be patient."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the T-Wolves
Is Al Jefferson a nice piece? Definitely. But if they're looking to build around him, they won't go far. He'll never be an MVP candidate, and he may never be the best player on his team--except for right now. . . . Gerald Green gives them hope; he could be a 20-point guy in two years. Not only does he have the athletic ability, but he can also shoot and he has skill. He's going to be boom or bust, which makes him the X factor in the trade. . . . Randy Foye's not a classic shooting guard, but he does enough things well as a passer and off the dribble, and he has the size and strength to be a defender. . . . Corey Brewer may be another Tayshaun Prince, a long, lanky wing player who is always going to guard the other team's best perimeter scorer, and who can shoot it pretty well himself. . . . I fully expect Ricky Davis to be in get-mine mode. He's going to feign leadership and do things to win when it's easy for him, but when things aren't going well, that's when he'll stray.