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Is Our Savior Already Here?

Big AlWatching this team lose 18 games in a row forced fans to look to the draft to bring us a player that would change the fortunes of our franchise.  Lately, however, there is reason to believe that the star player we’ve been waiting to put next to Paul Pierce already wears a Celtics uniform.

If you could draw up a blueprint of the kind of player that would compliment Paul Pierce’s game, you would probably want a low post player.  Someone that could score at will against single coverage (and some double teams) in the paint.  Someone who can get to the line or pass out to open shooters.  Someone that will be among the lead leaders in rebounds.  Someone, in short, like Al Jefferson.

Now if you were adding a player just like that to this team through the draft, you’d still need him to get used to playing in the NBA and with this particular group of teammates.  Jefferson has played with Pierce and other Celtics for almost 3 years now, and he’s still only 22 years old.

This is what we all hoped for when Jefferson was drafted.  In a way, it has taken an epic journey to get us to this point.  Epics are typically broken into 3 parts.  The introduction, the tragic turn, and the triumphant return.  (Think Star Wars or Lord of the Rings)  The natural promise he showed his first year gave us hope.  He even forced the Pacers to start double teaming him in the playoffs.  This prompted the infamous Media Guide with his picture on the cover. 

The second year was full of trials.  Mostly due to a lingering and mysterious ankle injury.  Doubt and quiet trade rumors started to follow Jefferson.  He finally got healthy and worked on his conditioning and body in the offseason.  He worked with new low post coach Clifford Ray and fans dared to hope for a better year.

The whole team started off the year poorly and Jefferson missed some more time early in the year.  This prompted many to exclaim “here we go again.”   However, he came back strong and when Pierce went down for several weeks, the team turned to Jefferson to step up and provide scoring.  And step up he did.  Al turned into a double double machine despite drawing the focus of every opponent’s defense. 

Since Pierce’s return, Jefferson has exploded.  The team has won 5 of its last 6 and Jefferson has averaged 25.8 points and 14 rebounds including two games over 30 points and none under 20 during that stretch.  Pierce and the other Celtics are making an effort to get Jefferson the ball and in turn he’s continuing to pull down rebounds for them.  Other players have also stepped it up since Pierce’s return, including Delonte West, Rajon Rondo, and even Brian Scalabrine.  But without a doubt, the engine that makes this team run is Al Jefferson.

The timing of Jefferson’s emergence will most likely earn him quite a payday.  He goes into the offseason with one year left on his contract and the team will be highly motivated to extend his contract.  Given what Nene and Samuel Dalembert signed for in recent years, you can expect the numbers to be in the range of 9 to 10 million a year.   The team will need to consider this when considering their future cap room.  That means that Wally’s contract will be an additional burden and we might want to consider hanging onto Theo Ratliff’s contract to get cap relief.  In particular that flexibility would be needed if we intend to extend players like Delonte West (this summer) and even Gerald Green (a year from now).

This team is going to have a high draft pick one way or another.  If that pick happens to be a top two pick and lands us a franchise player through the draft, it will be a fantastic development for the team.  However, even if we lose the lottery, we have reason to believe that the team already has a franchise post player.

With a healthy Pierce and the arrival of Al Jefferson, this team is no longer the second worst team in the league, regardless of what the record says.  I can’t wait to see what kind of team this will be heading into next year.