Al Jefferson has told Brett Jensen of Fox Sports that he has all intentions of playing for the Hornets next season. Jefferson is entering the final year of the three year, $41 million contract he signed with the Hornets two summers ago. The final year includes a player option, meaning Jefferson can decide whether he wants to opt-in and play the final year of that contract, or opt-out and test his value in free agency. When asked whether he would opt-in or out, Jefferson made it clear he intends to stick around:
"If I had my way, I'd finish my career here," he said. "I feel like I helped start this and I want to finish it. ... I love the city, I love my teammates, I love Coach (Steve Clifford) and the coaching staff. ... It's still something that I have to still talk to my agent any my peeps about, but I can't see myself leaving, honestly. Right here, right now, I can't see myself leaving."
Jefferson went on to say that only extreme circumstances would see him playing somewhere else next season:
"Honestly, I can't see myself being somewhere else next year, unless something dramatic changes and I have to do what's best for me and my family, or Charlotte telling me they don't want me no more," Jefferson said. "But I personally can't see myself optioning out and leaving."
There you have it -- unless it would be better for his family to live elsewhere, or the front office tells him they don't see him as part of their plans next season, Jefferson will remain with the Hornets.
On one hand, Jefferson's comments are encouraging. The Hornets' (then Bobcats) franchise had never been viewed as an attractive free agent destination, but Jefferson changed that perception. Recruited by Kemba Walker, Jefferson signed for Charlotte without visiting any other team, and went on to praise the entire organization shortly after. Two years later, it's a good sign that Jefferson still has high praise for the city, his teammates, and the coaching staff, despite the difficult year. Combine Jefferson's comments with that of Walker's recent defense of Clifford, and it appears the Hornets' key players are still committed to the franchise's goals.
However, given Jefferson's struggles this season, there are questions as to whether he can still be the dominant, All-NBA big man from last season. Jefferson only played in 65 games this season due to injuries, and he wasn't 100 percent in many of the games he did play in. Before he was shut down recently, Jefferson was having fluid drained from his knee. When healthy, he is one of the best offensive big men in the NBA, but his game relies on the mobility and health of his legs. If he is nagged by leg injuries, it makes it more difficult for him to dominate in the post offensively.
If Jefferson is committed, it is up to the front office to determine whether they think he can overcome the injuries he suffered from this season. As long as Jefferson is here, the offense will likely revolve around him, and when he can't score as effectively as he wants to, the result is what organization and fans saw this season -- an ugly, and ineffective offense.
Whether Jefferson should return or not will be highly debated, but there is something to be said that Jefferson is still committed to the franchise. If he can remain healthy next season and re-capture last year's form, then the Hornets would be right to commit to him. Maintaining good relations with players can go along way in keeping the perception of Charlotte as an attractive free agent destination. Considering the Hornets have been able to attract the likes of Gordon Hayward, and yes, even Lance Stephenson, it would send the right message to the rest of the league that Charlotte values free agent talent, and commits to them even when things don't go according to plan.
If Jefferson's health checks out, the team should commit to him. From there, it will be about constructing a roster that better fits Jefferson's offensive strengths, along with Walker's.