March 7, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) reacts during the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. Jazz win 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Free Agency: Bobcats, Jefferson Agree To Deal

Free agent center Al Jefferson has agreed in principle to a three-year contract with the Charlotte Bobcats, reports ESPN’s Marc Stein. The contract is worth $41 million and contains an early termination option after the second year.

Stein writes that Jefferson and the Bobcats struck a deal Thursday morning. Jefferson was believed to be waiting on a decision from Dwight Howard before committing to a new team. Jefferson’s contract is worth an average salary of $13.6 million. With two years guaranteed, the Bobcats aren’t locking themselves into a long-term situation.

To make room for Jefferson, the Bobcats are expected to waive Tyrus Thomas under the amnesty provision, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell. Thomas is due over $16 million through the 2015 season. The Bobcats can’t officially waive him until July 10, but according to Bonnell, team officials have already informed Thomas that it will happen.

If Jefferson continues to perform at a high level, he can be a valuable trade asset in the second year of his deal. If the Bobcats want to hold on to him, they could give him a 170% raise with Early Bird rights. Jefferson will likely start alongside fourth overall pick Cody Zeller or Bismack Biyombo in a much-improved frontline in Charlotte.

The Bobcats were last in the league in frontcourt scoring this past season. Zeller and Jefferson could be the preferred tandem with their height and offense ability. Jefferson is one of the league’s better low-post scorers, so it becomes even more important for Zeller to develop a reliable jump shot with jefferson taking up space in the paint.

Jefferson  was selected 15th overall in the 2004 Draft by the Boston Celtics, who he spent three seasons with. He was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007 as the key component of the Kevin Garnett trade. Jeferson spent three seasons in Minnesota where he averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. He was traded to the Utah Jazz in 2010, where he’s spent the last three seasons of his career. Jefferson averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds last season in Utah.

Jefferson isn’t a reliable defensive player. He has been able to contest and block shots (1.4 blocks for his career), but struggles defending in space and guarding pick and rolls. Zeller also has trouble defending in space and on the perimeter, so Steve Clifford will have some work to do defensively with his potential starters. The Bobcats were 23rd in points allowed in the paint and 29th in points allowed last season.

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