By Chris Mannix
July 23, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- Since coming to the NBA after being the top pick in the 2008 draft, the Bulls' Derrick Rose has quickly established himself as a premier point guard. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Rose possesses a rare blend of size, speed and athleticism that makes him virtually impossible to contain.

Next season, however, Rose could be even tougher to defend. A consistent three-point shot has been the one missing weapon from Rose's repertoire. In his first two seasons, Rose attempted just 132 threes and connected on 32, a low percentage (24.2) that encouraged defenses to sag off and dare him to beat them from the outside.

With that in mind, Rose has made improving his jumper his top priority this offseason. Working with longtime trainer Rob McClanaghan, Rose has lived behind the line. He has made subtle adjustments to his technique -- he moved the ball closer to his fingertips to try to get more arc on his shots -- and sharpens it by attempting hundreds of extra three-pointers a day. Indeed, during breaks in the action at this week's USA Basketball camp, Rose can be found at an open rim firing up jumpers.

"It feels great," Rose said. "I'm not scared to shoot it anymore."

Rose's motivation to become a better shooter has been fueled by the offseason addition of Carlos Boozer. Previously, the role of Chicago's big men -- a list that has included Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Taj Gibson --has been to rebound, run the floor and knock down the occasional jump shot. The addition of Boozer brings an elite low-post scorer who can command a double team, which should create more open looks for Chicago's perimeter scorers.

"If I can shoot the three, it will open up our game," Rose said. "Now that I'm playing with Carlos, when the kick-back comes, I want to be ready to shoot."

While the changes in Miami have created a clear pecking order in the Eastern Conference, Rose believes the additions to his team (Boozer, forward Kyle Korver and guard Ronnie Brewer) will make the Bulls a difficult out in the playoffs.

"We have the right pieces," Rose said. "We have guys who have been in winning programs. We're not [intimidated]. We're ready to play right now. It's going to be a fun year in the East."

Memphis forward Rudy Gay's five-year, $84 million deal is one of the more eyebrow-raising contracts this offseason. Because Gay was a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies could have matched any offer he received in the open market. Instead, Memphis preempted the bidding by extending Gay an offer that will pay him an average salary of $16.8 million.

The offer even took Gay himself aback.

"I was surprised," he said. "Actually, I was really surprised. When I found out they did that, I was like, 'Wow.' "

With more money comes more expectations, pressure Gay says he is ready to accept. He is encouraged by the Grizzlies' offseason -- highlighted by the drafting of guards Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez and the signing of former Celtics swingman Tony Allen -- and says he and his teammates are eager to get into camp.

"We needed a bench and we got one," Gay said. "As for me, honestly, I play with pressure on my back every day. I'm going to continue to do the same things. The team showed that they really wanted to keep me, so it's up to me to show them that I was worth it."

The notion has taken root that Rajon Rondo wasn't all that interested in playing for USA Basketball. It's a perception fueled by the Celtics' point guard, who over the last two years hasn't publicly expressed the same desire as other players to wear the USA jersey.

There is a reason for that, Rondo says, and it has nothing to do with not wanting to represent the U.S.

"It wasn't that I didn't want to be here," he said. "It's the wear and tear on my body. I played [105] games last year. I was pretty banged up after the season. It was the same thing the last couple of years. I'm young, which is probably the only reason why I'm here. If I was a little older, I probably wouldn't have done it."

Rondo has been among the standouts in camp, drawing praise from USA Basketball officials for his decision-making and ability to run a team. Should he make the first cut -- the roster will be sliced to about 15 when camp picks up in New York early next month, and 12 players will represent the U.S. at the world championships in Turkey beginning Aug. 28 -- Rondo says he will continue to try to make the team.

"I definitely want to be there," Rondo said. "This is a unique experience."

With Chris Paul's reported desire to be traded to the Knicks making the rounds, speculation has run rampant about a possible Big Three of Amar'e Stoudemire, Paul and Carmelo Anthony forming in New York. Helping fuel the idea is the fact that Anthony has not yet signed the three-year, $65 million extension Denver offered earlier this month. But Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups isn't concerned about his teammate's joining that proposed group.

"They [the New York media] have to make some kind of story; they lost out on LeBron [James]," Billups said. "I don't anticipate it will get to that point. I think he's going to stay in Denver."

One reason Billups hopes Anthony signs the extension is so his pending free agency doesn't become a distraction.

"Nobody wants to deal with that all year," Billups said. "Cleveland had to deal with that. Definitely, nobody really wants that for us."

David Lee has a message for Stoudemire: When playing in New York, mental toughness is as crucial as physical.

"That's as important as everything else," said the Warriors' forward, who injured the middle finger on his right hand on Tuesday and will miss the world championships. "I know one of the most important things about New York is being able to fight through criticism and fight through tough times, because that stuff will happen up there."

Lee says he harbors no animosity toward the Knicks for replacing him after his first All-Star season.

"Amar'e is an unbelievable player," Lee said. "I know the Knicks' overall goal was to get LeBron James, and they signed Amar'e as an avenue to get LeBron. You can't blame them for that. The chances of signing me and getting LeBron were worse than signing Amar'e and getting LeBron."

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)