MANKATO, Minn. -- "Big Al" isn't quite as big these days, and that's no accident for the Minnesota Timberwolves star as he returns from a major knee injury.
A slimmer, trimmer Al Jefferson returned to full practice Tuesday for the first time in nearly eight months following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. He has lost 31 pounds in an effort to reduce the stress on his knees and get him ready to run in the new up-tempo offense that coach Kurt Rambis plans to install.
"It felt real good," Jefferson said after the Timberwolves opened training camp in owner Glen Taylor's hometown. "It's more about my lungs than anything. My knee felt great. Felt good to be back out here with the team."
Jefferson's season was derailed last season just as he was asserting himself as one of the league's dominant low post players. He crumpled to the court in New Orleans shortly before the All-Star break in February, and the young Timberwolves went right down with him.
When David Kahn took over as president of basketball operations in May, he challenged Jefferson to drop some weight during his rehabilitation, which can often be a tricky proposition with so much time spent staying off his healing leg.
But Jefferson reported to training camp at 262 pounds, the lightest he's been in four years.
"We want to run this year. They made that clear," Jefferson said. "When David Kahn came, he said that's what he wants to do. When Kurt came, he said that's what he wants to do.
"So I was like, 'I better get with it or I might be benched.' I know they're not going to wait for me to get down there to post up. So I better get this weight off so they don't leave me down there."
The 6-foot-9 Jefferson has spent much of his first two seasons in Minnesota playing out of position at center, but that didn't stop him from averaging 27.2 points and 12.3 rebounds in the nine games leading up to his injury.
The Wolves signed Ryan Hollins from Dallas to give them another body at center, but Jefferson still figures to spend a lot of his time this season banging around with the big boys in the middle with Kevin Love by his side at power forward.
When Jefferson bulked up, he rationalized that he needed the extra pounds to be able to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweights like Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Dwight Howard. He now admits that "might have been an excuse" for him to gain weight.
He spent plenty of time this summer lifting weights to add muscle while dropping fat, and is not worried about losing any leverage against the bigger centers.
"I'm not afraid. I'll be able to hold up to them," Jefferson said. "And I look at the bright side. They've got to guard me on the other way down. I'll have the advantage. I'll give up some size and weight when I defend them. But they'll also give up a lot when they defend me."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.