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Updated: December 22nd, 2010 9:51pm
Al Jefferson returns to hand Timberwolves 112-107 loss

Al Jefferson returns to hand Timberwolves 112-107 loss

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Al Jefferson returned to Minnesota Wednesday and was instrumental in leading the Utah Jazz from behind over the Timberwolves 112-107. 

Jefferson had 23 points nine rebounds and seven assists in his first appearance at Target Center since he was traded to the Utah Jazz over the summer for two future first -ound picks and center Kosta Koufos.

Often times in sports when a former superstar returns to his old stomping grounds there is a certain amount of animosity and bad blood shown -- a certain game in Cleveland earlier this season comes to mind. 

However, that was not the case Wednesday at Target Center. Jefferson was applauded by the fans in attendance, although the response was nowhere near the frenzy caused by Kevin Garnett's return.

This was due in large part to the fact that Jefferson never reached near the connection with fans that Garnett did and -- in calling a spade a spade -- there really haven't been too many fans inside Target Center the past three seasons.

Unlike a lot of big trades in the NBA, Jefferson's departure wasn't a superstar demanding a trade, nor was it a team shipping out a high-profile player in order to blow up their roster and start from scratch -- much like the Garnett trade to the Boston Celtics that brought Jefferson here in 2007. 

"It was a mutual decision; it was something that he welcomed as well," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "There can't be any hard feelings when a decision is made in a win-win situation like that. We are happy for Al and we wish him continued success."

The trade benefited Jefferson because, for the first time in his six-year career, he has been given the opportunity to play for a winning team. 

Aside from the two future first-round picks the Wolves will get from the Jazz, Jefferson's departure has cleared the way for Kevin Love to play his natural position as well as allowed the Wolves to play an up-tempo, passing style of basketball that wasn't possible with Jefferson. 

"Most definitely (it was mutual)," Jefferson said. "I feel both sides agreed on it. Both sides feel like it was best and I tip my hat to David Kahn and the front office because they could have traded me anywhere and they put me in this (in Utah) because I feel they want to see me do good and to see me have a great career."

It is rare for a team to trade a player of Jefferson's caliber within the same conference, it is almost unheard of to trade a player of Jefferson's caliber within the same division, but that is exactly what Kahn did by sending him to the Northwest division rival Jazz.

"You don't catch too many GMs that would do that for their top player on the team, but I tip my hat to them and they put me in a great place to succeed," Jefferson said.

Part of Kahn's generosity in trading Jefferson within the division may have been out of respect for Jefferson but probably had more to do with the fact that Utah offered the best package and that Kahn has acknowledged -- while on their way -- the Wolves are still realistically a year or two away from seriously contending for a playoff spot in the competitive Western conference.

In 2009, with Jeffferson on the team, Love started only 22 games and would get frustrated trying to carve out a role for himself coming off the bench.  Love finished the season averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game.

Love has had a breakout season in 2010 now that the reins have been handed to him, averaging 21.1 points and a league-leading 15.5 rebounds per game. Wednesday, Love had 25 points and 19 rebounds, good for his league-leading 25th double-double.

The trade has not translated into more wins yet, but for the first time in over five seasons, the franchise appears have an actual plan in place and are playing team-oriented basketball.  Gone are the days of the Jefferson and Garnett Eras, in which the franchise spun its wheels with a talented forward and four other players standing around watching. 

"Believe it or not, I feel like they are heading in the right direction," Jefferson said of his former team. "They have a great group of guys here, young talent."