Checking in with the new Richard Jefferson

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Though Tiago Splitter was San Antonio’s big off-season addition, it’s an improved Richard Jefferson that could really give the ’10-’11 Spurs some teeth. San Antonio was a fine team last season, but with Splitter bolstering the Spurs’ depth and Jefferson revamping his approach, Duncan and company could conceivably improve enough to sniff the West’s top tier.

That master plan very much depends on Jefferson’s improvement, though. San Antonio could really use a more efficient and productive RJ this year, as opposed to the inferior ill-fitting model we saw with the Spurs last season. Jefferson put in a ton of work this summer with Gregg Popovich and his staff trying to better understand the offense and work on the fundamentals of his game, and so far, it’s paying off. Eno Sarris of HoopData expounds on which statistical areas of improvement have been the most significant thus far for Jefferson:

For example, his assist rate is at a five-year high at this point (16.34, 13.75 previous five-year high), which could come from learning the Spurs offense better. His percentage of long twos (the least efficient shot in basketball) is down to a career low (11.7%), which hopefully came straight from the coach’s mouth. Though his rebound rate is down slightly (7.0 after ranging from 6.2 to 8.3 the last four years), it’s about in line with his career numbers and it’s nothing a few more minutes a game (27 this year, 31 last year) couldn’t fix.

So far so good, but really the best news comes in one place and one place alone. Jefferson’s free-throw rate has jumped precipitously this year – it’s up to .88 from a five-year low last year (.37). He’s averaging 7.5 free throws a game so far, compared to 5.5 field goals. Last year, that was 3.5 free throws against 9.6 field goals. He’s getting to the line more often right now – that free throw rate has him at 16th in the league (9th in the league among players with 20+ MPG).

We know: sample size, sample size, sample size. But Jefferson’s style of play is what’s leading to his increase in free throw rate, not merely the frequency of beneficial calls. Numbers can tell truths even two games into the season, and while an entire statistical profile will mislead at this stage, there’s sill plenty to be learned.

Heat re-sign Udonis Haslem

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In 2002, not a single team drafted Udonis Haslem.

For the last 15 years, the Heat haven’t been able to quit him.

Heat:

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Haslem isn’t receiving another $4 million windfall like he got last year. He’ll earn $2,328,652 – $1,471,382 paid by the Heat and $857,270 covered by the league (as is done on one-year minimum deals for veterans). An NBA contract, even for the minimum, might be enough of a reward at this point.

To whatever extent Haslem still has a position – he has played just 390 minutes in the last two years – he’s probably a center. The Heat have Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and maybe A.J. Hammons ahead of him. But this isn’t about getting the 37-year-old Haslem on the court, at least not beyond rare spot minutes, where can still be useful as a defender and rebounder.

The Heat want Haslem’s toughness and veteran leadership. He reinforces their culture, and that might be worth a roster spot.

Report: Bulls, agent discussed Derrick Rose returning to Chicago

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Derrick Rose meeting with the Clippers barely registered. He has to meet with the Bucks twice before most noticed.

But it seems Rose and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, have finally figured out how to drum up attention – leak interest from more prominent teams like the LeBron James-led, championship-contending Cavaliers and big-market, widely followed Lakers.

What team could generate even more buzz?

The Bulls!

Sam Amick of USA Today:

If the talks went beyond Armstrong asking the Bulls whether they would sign Rose and the Bulls declining, I’d be surprised.

There’s probably a part of Rose that wants to return to his native Chicago, but it seems his former team has long moved on.

Report: Derrick Rose meeting with Lakers

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Derrick Rose is suddenly in demand – once the market was set at a minimum salary or so.

Not only are the Cavaliers pursuing the former MVP/overhyped role player, so are the Lakers.

ESPN:

Rose is also meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, sources told ESPN’s Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne. The Lakers are trying to entice Rose to sign with them, suggesting they can offer more playing time and money in a better environment after Rose’s tumultuous season in New York, sources said.

Rose’s tumultuous season was due in part to Rose. No matter where he signs, he can’t escape himself. And Los Angeles is even further from his native Chicago.

But the Lakers can offer more money. They still have the $4,328,000 room exception. Rose would earn just $2,116,955 on a minimum salary from Cleveland, and the Cavs can bump that offer to only about $2.5 million. (That’d come with exponential additional costs, so they probably wouldn’t do that, anyway.)

The Lakers can also offer a larger role. Lonzo Ball can’t play every minute at point guard, and Rose would fill in the rest. They’ll likely add a point guard, Rose or not. The Cavaliers might be set with Kyrie Irving, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder if they don’t get Rose.

I’m not sure how Rose would work as a veteran mentor, especially on a one-year contract as he eyes a bigger payday next summer. But – say whatever else you want about him, and there’s plenty to say – Rose has remained impressively focused on basketball amid untold chaos. Ball – with outsized attention given LaVar and his media market – can probably relate.

Rockets re-signing Bobby Brown, Troy Williams

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James Harden spearheaded the Rockets’ recruitment of Chris Paul, but the MVP runner-up didn’t work alone.

Paul’s former New Orleans teammates Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown added appeal.

So, unsurprisingly, with Paul in a contract year, Houston is re-signing Brown. The Rockets are also re-signing Troy Williams.

Alykhan Bijani‏ of ESPN Houston:

Williams’ agency:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brown is an undersized gunner who’s not nearly efficient enough to compensate for his defensive deficiencies, and he turns 33 before the season. But if he helps convince Paul to re-sign, it would be well worth keeping Brown on the roster all year.

The 22-year-old Williams, who went undrafted last year, is the far more intriguing player. A 6-foot-7 forward, he has the athleticism to stick in the NBA. His 3-point shot needs major development – though not quite as much if he becomes more adept at being a small-ball four, an easier task in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.