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Jefferson's $65M extension isn't max deal, but he's satisfied

MINNEAPOLIS -- Al Jefferson could have waited until next
summer to sign a contract extension with the
Minnesota Timberwolves.

In fact, that was what his agent advised him to do, hoping that
a big season and his status as a restricted free agent would have
brought the 22-year-old power forward the highest contract
allowable under league rules.

Jefferson ignored that advice and signed a five-year, $65
million deal just before the deadline on Wednesday night. In the
era of "Show me the money!" and "bling bling," Jefferson's
reason was stunningly humble.

"I didn't even think I was worth max [money] this year
anyway," Jefferson said at a news conference Thursday. "I
would've been a fool to go up there and ask for max, having not
really proved myself for that. So the number I got was the number
that was my goal from Day 1. And I think it was a win, win
situation."

At an average salary of $13 million per season that starts next
year, Jefferson certainly won't be starving. But Timberwolves vice
president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said that had
Jefferson signed a max deal, he would have been entitled to 25
percent of Minnesota's salary cap.

Depending on where the cap is set in each of the next six years,
Jefferson likely would have made more than $15 million per season.

"I can tell you around the league, 85 percent of the people
feel they're worth max," McHale said with a chuckle. "Al's in the
minority of 15 percent that doesn't believe he deserves max."

The young Timberwolves desperately need Jefferson to evolve into
the max-contract type of player if their massive rebuilding project
is going to succeed.

Jefferson, of course, was acquired at the end of July from
Boston along with four other players -- Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green,
Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff -- and two first-round draft
picks for Kevin Garnett, the only superstar the Timberwolves have
ever had.

After 12 years of trying, and failing, to surround Garnett with
veteran talent to get them to the NBA Finals, McHale decided it was
time to let the face of the franchise go and start over.

So he pulled the trigger on the unprecedented 7-for-1 trade,
with Jefferson being the lynch pin of the deal. The 6-foot-10,
265-pounder has been a beast on the low block for the Wolves in the
preseason, leading the team with 17.9 points and 13.4 rebounds per
game.

McHale adoringly calls him "truly a throwback, low-post,
offensive rebound, punch-you-in-the-mouth and score around the
paint type guy."

He has long had an affinity for Jefferson's game, but it took
some convincing before McHale decided to sign him long term.
Jefferson's agent, Jeff Schwartz, pushed for an extension as soon
as the trade transpired, but McHale didn't bite.

After eight preseason games, a training camp trip to Europe, and
countless hours on the practice court, McHale is sure now was the
right time.

"I knew Al was good," McHale said. "Al's better than I
thought he was. When you're around him every day, you see his
character, you see his personality, you see his work ethic and you
see his ability. It's really a package that's very, very
impressive."

Establishing a young core including Jefferson, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants, McHale has completely revamped a team
that has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. He traded
veterans Mike James, Trenton Hassell, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount
and bought out the contracts of Troy Hudson and Juwan Howard.

Only three players on this roster were here two years ago, and
coach Randy Wittman will have plenty of teaching to do with a
roster that includes nine players age 25 or younger.

"This group of guys have worked. They've really come together.
They pull for each other," said Wittman, who at the end of last
year spoke openly about a fractured locker room that contributed to
the team's woeful season. "Now it's just a matter of growing
together."

With KG gone to Boston, it's Jefferson's team now. After four
years with the Celtics, Jefferson thinks he is ready to become a
star.

"I told Kevin. I'm prepared for this. I'm ready for this,"
Jefferson said earlier in training camp. "This is what I want.
Every guy in the NBA wants to get the opportunity that I have right
now and I want to take advantage of it."

Starting next year, Jefferson will be getting paid like upper
echelon players he is about to join, thanks to a deal that almost
didn't get done.

By 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening, Schwartz told Jefferson that the
extension talks were dead and would not be finished by the 11 p.m.
deadline. But Jefferson urged Schwartz to make the deal, and now he
has the security and the team has a certain flexibility that should
help in the long run.

"My agent, he supported my decision," Jefferson said. "At the
same time, he knows we're leaving a lot of money on the table.
[But] if we wait till next year, you never know what the future
might bring. And I just wanted to get it in and stop worrying about
it, and get this team back into the playoffs."