For 63 home games, Al Jefferson sat next to Mark Blount in the Celtics' locker room. It was not always a comfortable spot for the second-year forward. With Blount traded to Minnesota Thursday night, Jefferson believes the locker room will be a better place, not just for him, but for everyone.
Jefferson provided a rare glimpse inside the locker room with his comments before last night's 84-74 victory over the Kings. The viewpoint revealed a team that struggled with chemistry on and off the court, particularly when it came to Blount.
''I grew to learn how Mark was last year, so it didn't really bother me this year," said Jefferson. ''But last year, it was more like, 'What's wrong with him? What's going through his head?' This year it was like, 'OK, that's just Mark.' Coach [Doc Rivers] said from Day 1 that he wasn't going to tolerate it. If Mark doesn't want to play, he'll sit him on the bench. Coach proved that a couple times this year by not letting him play and taking him out of the starting lineup."
When asked if he thought executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Rivers worried Blount would become a bad influence on him and Kendrick Perkins, Jefferson said, ''That was the big thing right there, too. But no one can put a bad influence on me or Perk. I could have been around Mark Blount every day, could have shared a house together, but he wasn't going to have me thinking the way he thinks.
''But being a GM, I could see Danny, with two young players coming up who play the same position, thinking it would rub off. I remember last year I had a talk with Doc right before the playoffs about Mark rubbing off on me. I told him then and I tell him now, 'Nobody can just rub anything off on me.' I've got my own mind."
Clearly there was a long-standing concern from team management about Blount's attitude affecting team chemistry. So it seemed inevitable Ainge would deal Blount. Jefferson expects a more cohesive team with Blount and Marcus Banks, who was unhappy with his situation in Boston, gone.
''Like Doc said [to us], the trade will clear out a lot of negative stuff in the locker room without Mark Blount and Marcus Banks, who didn't really want to be here," said Jefferson. ''It clears the negative stuff out of the locker room and off the team, period. Ricky [Davis] didn't really have a negative attitude, but when things weren't going right, he would say something. Everybody would [in that situation]. So, you can't fault him for that. But Marcus and Blount didn't want to be here. I really didn't know Marcus didn't want to be here until I found out with the trade. I think now we can keep more positive about things."
Even though he will receive more playing time and more opportunities as a result of the deal, Jefferson saw Blount, Banks, Davis, and Justin Reed as the real beneficiaries of the trade. He wishes his former teammates well with the Timberwolves.
''In general, I think all four guys who were traded, it benefits them the most," said Jefferson, who had 13 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes last night. ''Justin really didn't see the court at all. He wasn't even dressed. In Minnesota, he will be given the opportunity to show his talent and play because he has great talent, great defense, and terrific offense. Mark will be somewhere where he's happy. Everybody knows when he's happy, when he's in a good frame of mind, he can play. Mark was not happy. Mark was ready to go. Danny was ready to make some big decisions to give me and Perk more playing time. Ain't nobody's feelings hurt. It worked out for Danny, me, Perk, and Mark."
Jefferson hopes for the best. The locker to his right is empty for now. The action shot of Blount that once hung above has been replaced with one of Bill Russell. Clearly, a positive influence.