Richard Jefferson has the nerve to go back to the basics

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NBA_jefferson1_250.jpgI’m not sure where Richard Jefferson learned how to be a professional athlete, but I’m pretty sure he’s doing it wrong.

First, he abandoned huge short-term financial gains in favor of a more practical long-term deal. Well-played certainly, but to give up a $15.2 million single-year salary along with a chance to play his way into an even better contract? Not exactly a symptom of the confidence bordering on overconfidence bordering on hubris that we’re accustomed to with pro athletes.

Then, after struggling through the ’09-’10 season, Jefferson showed a lot of nerve. He went to work with the Spurs assistants, put in a summer of hard work, and really made an effort to become better acquainted with and more useful in the Spurs’ system. From Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
understands what a Jefferson revival can mean. He worked with him over
the summer and helped formulate a program to improve and adapt his game
to fit the Spurs’ systems. From sessions with Popovich in San
Antonio to weeks in New York, working out with Spurs assistant Chad
Forcier, and enrollment in development guru Tim Grgurich’s summer camp
in Las Vegas, Jefferson threw himself into a regimen that emphasized
fundamentals.

“There are very few pros who have played as long
as he has and scored as much as he has who would do what he did this
summer,” Popovich said. “He went back to the fundamentals and did
drills with myself and other coaches — basic, basic things to get his
game back to where he can really help us. His dedication and development this summer are going to be one of the most important things for our success this year.”


What’s RJ’s deal, anyway? Are there no movies to be filmed? Is there no rain to be made? Does he really have nothing better to do than everything he should be doing?

Preseason quotes are typically dripping with optimism, but in this case, Popovich’s comments seem a bit more grounded. Jefferson didn’t add “15 pounds of muscle,” he simply focused on tailoring his game to his San Antonio home. That’s the understated off-season development that can make a player like RJ far more effective, if only by fitting bit more snugly in his role with the Spurs.

The impact of Jefferson’s efforts should be obvious in the coming season, and could spearhead the internal development that San Antonio needs to seriously contend in the West. Tiago Splitter is a huge addition for the Spurs, but without significant improvements by Richard Jefferson and George Hill, the Spurs are no better than the other half dozen second tier teams in the Western Conference.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: