Wallace acknowledges that he discovered something during that scavenger hunt more valuable than a hundred Highlanders: a phenom with an instinct to search rather than complain. "Oh, I wasn't angry," Jefferson says. "I just wanted to help the man find his car."
But the market softened for Jefferson amid concerns about his defense, and on July 1 he met with new Cats coach Steve Clifford over chicken Parm at BlackFinn. Clifford shared observations with Jefferson about why he scores so much and wins so little. Jefferson often dominates through three quarters, but smart opponents double-team him in the fourth. Clifford, a longtime assistant in his first NBA head-coaching job, outlined the duck-ins and quick-hitters he ran for Dwight Howard in Orlando and for Yao Ming in Houston to beat doubles before they arrive.
Jefferson faces up and immediately sticks the ball behind his back, like a pitcher debating what to throw. Probably he'll go with his fastball (the right hook), but maybe he'll choose something off-speed (the spin move, the drop step, the up-and-under), and if he's really feeling it, a blend of the above. He'll definitely toss in at least one of his pump fakes, like the slow-motion variation he swiped from Pierce, and when he finally gets around to shooting, he'll vary his release. "I can announce to the world he's going right," says Larry Stamps, who coached Jefferson's AAU team. "Now who is going to stop it?"
No matter, the Cats win again as Douglas-Roberts drains four threes and Big Al purees double teams by Spencer Hawes and Tristan Thompson. At the end of the game, Jefferson hears a muffled but unmistakable noise, three universal letters foreign in these parts. It sounds like an MVP chant. It looks like Progress.