- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Sources told ESPN.com that the Jazz and Timberwolves are on the verge of completing a trade that would slot Jefferson's contract into the $14 million trade exception that Utah created earlier this week in its sign-and-trade deal with Chicago for Carlos Boozer.
The full extent of the package that Minnesota would receive in return was not immediately known, as one source told ESPN.com that the two teams were still discussing the terms of draft picks that Utah would send to seal the deal.
But because its trade exception is large enough to absorb Jefferson's $13 million salary next season, Utah can complete a trade for Jefferson without sending back any players to the Wolves. Sources with knowledge of Minnesota's thinking said Monday that the Wolves' main aim in shopping Jefferson in recent weeks has been securing multiple future first-round picks and taking back as little salary if possible.
Via his Twitter account Monday night, Utah CEO Greg Miller wrote: "I just approved a Jazz roster move that I'm very excited about. Planning to share details tomorrow."
The Dallas Mavericks were widely believed to be the league's most serious suitor for Jefferson in recent days and moved closer to a deal with the Wolves over the weekend than the teams previously had been, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
But the Dallas-Minnesota talks hit another roadblock, sources said, when the Mavericks insisted that the Wolves take on the contracts of DeShawn Stevenson and Matt Carroll in addition to the pieces Minnesota really wanted: Erick Dampier's non-guaranteed $13 million contract and two conditional future first-round picks.
Including Stevenson and Carroll would lessen the financial hit involved for Dallas in absorbing the three years and $42 million remaining on Jefferson's deal, but sources say that Utah -- apparently determined to replace Boozer's inside scoring with Jefferson's accomplished low-post game -- has presented a more palatable offer to Minnesota.
Yet it was not immediately known what specific assets Utah would be willing to part with in a Jefferson deal in addition to making its trade exception available for Minnesota to realize significant payroll relief. The Jazz have lost Boozer and Kyle Korver in free agency and have seven days to decide whether to match the five-year, $34 million offer sheet Portland has tendered to guard Wesley Matthews.
Although Utah has Paul Millsap primed to replace Boozer, responding to Boozer's departure by immediately bringing in Jefferson would be a strong statement of intent to star guard Deron Williams, who raised eyebrows in February when he expressed frustration regarding the salary-dumping trade of guard Ronnie Brewer to Memphis.
In a thinly veiled challenge to management, Williams said of uncertainty about Utah's spending plans this summer: "That's why I signed a three-year deal."
As recently as the summer of 2007, Jefferson was the centerpiece of Minnesota's trade with Boston that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. The 25-year-old played in 76 games last season after a knee injury limited him to 50 in 2008-09, but it's been an open secret in the league for weeks the Wolves have decided to trade away their best down-low scorer to ease a frontcourt logjam that got even more crowded Monday when they officially completed the acquisition of former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley from Miami.
The Wolves, in addition to Beasley, still have Kevin Love at power forward and have signed two centers (Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic) in free agency. Wolves management, sources said, made the decision to break up the Jefferson-Love tandem largely because of their defensive struggles and concerns about Jefferson's fit in coach Kurt Rambis' triangle offense.
"There's a lot of interest right now in Al because most of the major free agents, if not all of the major free agents, are signed," Timberwolves president David Kahn told reporters in Minneapolis after the Wolves completed the Beasley trade with Miami.
Kahn also revealed that he had breakfast with Jefferson on Saturday, saying: "I told him I admired him for his professionalism. I hope it isn't awkward. I told him we would do what's best for him and best for us."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.