ATLANTA — Richard Jefferson might have reminded some Utah Jazz fans of Karl Malone by the comments he made Thursday on a national radio show.
Though the starting small forward has embraced his role as a veteran mentor on this youthful Jazz squad, the 33-year-old Jefferson made it clear while visiting with “SiriusXM NBA Radio" hosts Kenny Smith and Jason Goff that he wants to wrap up his career with a title contender.
Asked for his plans past the 2013-14 season, Jefferson was candid in his remarks.
“If I get an opportunity to play for a championship team, I’m going to go hunting for them,” he said. “I have no loyalty. I’m not one of those guys that plays for the same team for 15 years like a Reggie Miller that has to decide whether or not he’s going to go do that. No, I’m a gun for hire.”
Though he was fiercely loyal to Utah for 18 years, Malone, of course, left the Jazz to play for the Los Angeles Lakers for his final season in 2003-04 after John Stockton retired. The Lakers lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons.
Jefferson just wants to have another chance.
“I’m fortunate where I feel like I have two or three years where I can compete on a daily basis. … I feel like I can contribute,” Jefferson said. “I’m in my contract year … so I’m going to go championship hunting. I want to play for a championship team."
So far, that crowning moment has managed to elude Jefferson.
In 2001, his college team, Arizona, lost in the national championship game to Duke.
In 2002 and ’03, his New Jersey Nets won Eastern Conference banners but lost in consecutive years to the Lakers and Spurs in the NBA Finals. In 2004, Jefferson was on the Team USA squad that fell in the semifinals of the Olympics to Argentina and settled for the bronze medal.
After putting his 13th NBA season under his belt, he wants to help another team win a different kind of belt.
“I want to win a championship. I’ve come that close,” Jefferson said. “I want to win. It’s not about money for me. It’s not about playing time. I want to play for a quality team. I want to get back to the playoffs. That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Jefferson was included in this offseason’s Jazz-Warriors trade in large part because Golden State needed his $11 million contract off the books and Utah needed to hit minimum salary requirements.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin and rookie point guard Trey Burke are among the members of Utah’s organization who often talk about how they appreciate the leadership and example Jefferson has provided this season. Though he admitted to never having lost as much as he has with the 7-21 Jazz, Jefferson’s career has gotten a bit of a reboot after rarely playing in Golden State last season.
“You have to find a way to continue to contribute if you aren’t the same guy you were before,” he said. “My role has changed. I really believed had I not been a good vet on teams past, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to play.”
DAY OFF? Jazz power forward Derrick Favors grew up in Atlanta, so did he have any big plans for a day off in his hometown? “I haven’t been Christmas shopping yet,” he said, “so I’ve got to do that before anything.”
Favors then joked about how Santa Claus never gave him what he wanted as a kid.
“I never got toys growing up,” he said. “I got T-shirts and stuff.”
SAME STARTERS: The Jazz have found a good groove with the starting lineup of Burke, Gordon Hayward, Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Favors. That group has a 6-4 record when it begins games. The other five starting lineups are a combined 1-17.
“We’re getting comfortable with each other. We’re finally getting healthy for a little while together,” Corbin said. “I think the cohesion between that first group is starting to grow a little bit faster.”