Al Jefferson heading overseas, agrees to deal with Xinjiang of the CBA

Al Jefferson, Ian Mahinmi, Former Pacers

LAS VEGAS — Al Jefferson quickly found a new employer, but he is having to go overseas. The 33-year-old center has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

Their roster last year included American Darius Adams, Andray Blatche, and Zhou Qi of the Houston Rockets.

This comes less than a week after the Pacers officially waived Jefferson, whose contract was not fully guaranteed for the 2018-19 season. However, $4 million is guaranteed and counts against their salary cap.

See Also: Professor Al Jefferson enjoys showing young guns his ‘dinosaur’ game

Al was a positive influence in the Pacers’ locker room, contributing wisdom and perspective to a new group that needed it. He didn’t play much, but his teammates universally praised him.

Jefferson was the 15th pick of the 2004 draft, taken by the Boston Celtics. He played 14 seasons in the NBA, including the last two in Indy. Big Al’s role shifted from center to mentor over the last season.

Because he’s a been-there-done-that player, Jefferson is a guy that would not question the coaches, as many young players tend to do. He would be the one to reinforce the coaches’ messages, and players can be more receptive to that.

He appeared in just 36 games but Pacers President Kevin Pritchard still dubbed him their most important player due to his influence in the locker room with teammates.

“We had a lot of conversations with Al,” Pritchard said on July 6. “We will miss his role. He plans on going overseas and playing. But, I feel good about who we are looking at for that same role.

“Like I said all year, and Nate (McMillan) believes this as well, Al was our most important player. And so the thing that I’ve learned in my 20 years in this league is sometimes the guy is good enough to play but doesn’t and brings a positive influence, that guy is critical to what we do.

“We’re studying guys, we’re talking to guys. We feel like we’ve got one earmarked and we feel like he’s going to be perfect for that role.

Once Kyle O’Quinn and rookie Alize Johnson sign their deals, the Pacers will have 14 players under contract and just one open roster spot. While Pritchard couldn’t say it at the time because O’Quinn had yet to sign, he’s expected to fill the leadership void from Jefferson, who was voted “Teammate of the Year” by the 2016-17 team.

Larry Bird originally signed Big Al to a three-year, $30 million deal in 2016.

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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