Al Jefferson cuts out meat, looks to add points this season for the Pacers

The Indiana Pacers got a disappointing first campaign from Al Jefferson, but the veteran center looks like he is serious about staying in shape.

Last year, Al Jefferson wasn’t himself. His first season with the Indiana Pacers was a disaster. Al failed to average double-digit points for the first time in his career and wasn’t the veteran presence the team needed. Other than occasional outpourings of offense, Jefferson was a stumbling block for the Pacers and was left out of the rotation by the end of the season.

But he wants to change that.

One way he’s planning on doing that it no more meat in his diet. That’s what he told the media on hand at the Pacers Foundation’s golf outing.

“I try not to look back on it, because it’s not something I want to look back at,” Jefferson said. “I had to go into the offseason with a bad taste in my mouth. I did something about it. If I had been satisfied with last season, it shows the type of person I am. I know I’m not that type of person. I didn’t think I came in ready. I didn’t think I was motivated. Whatever the reason is, it got me to where I am now. In a way, I’m glad it happened.”

Part of the reason for Jefferson’s diet change was a bad meal he ate several months ago. That convinced him to eliminate meat from his diet.

“I’m a vegetarian now,” said Jefferson. “I got sick eating some home fried chicken. That’s my favorite. I just gave it up. See how long I can do it. I’m not saying it’s forever.”

Asked if chicken was what he missed most, Jefferson smiled.

“Man, you’re making my mouth water,” Jefferson said. “I love chicken. Can we not talk about chicken?”

In that Indianapolis Star story, Al says he lost 40 pounds and is down to 285 pounds — and shooting for 275. That means he was as heavy 325 at some point over the last year. That extra weight wasn’t helping with his conditioning nor was it making him a better basketball player.

At 32, Jefferson’s career is in decline, but what we saw last season was much more than age catching up with the Big Classic. He admitted he wasn’t motived and that might be why he cleared the 300-pound mark.

Jefferson went from averaging 12 points to 8.1 a game. Part of that came from reduced time on the floor (he was actually scoring more per 100 possessions than the year before) but his lack of effort on defense and poor conditioning made sure he was limited in the time he spent playing.

A leaner, more motivated Jefferson is beneficial to the Pacers in a number of ways.

If Jefferson is supposed to be the team’s veteran presence, then his leadership can’t be questioned. An out-of-shape and unproductive Al wasn’t going to bend the ears of the team, especially when he wasn’t a factor in coach Nate McMillan’s rotation. A more fit and motivated Jefferson can demand more respect than one who isn’t deserving of time on the floor.

While the choice of tanking or not taking continues to be tossed about, a better version of Al Jefferson helps the Pacers win games. Whether you think that’s a good idea or not is another thing, but if Jefferson’s coming off the bench to score points, grab rebounds, and play serviceable defense, that’s an asset for Indiana.

Speaking of assets, a better Al Jefferson can serve as a trade chip to a contending team. If Al comes off the bench and averages nearly a double-double (or something close to), then he becomes an asset worth acquiring for another team. If the Pacers want to get younger and faster, this should be part of the plan.

No matter what happens with Jefferson it is clear he took last year’s failures to heart and is actively working to prevent the same issues from returning. When McMillan called out Jefferson’s conditioning at the end of last season, it seemed like an excuse. But now that we’ve seen how Jefferson reacted, it is clear it was an issue.

Al may still have the Cheesecake Factory to go to after making these changes, but no more chicken for Al Jefferson.